The artist previously often known as Josh Tillman has taken followers by way of some twists earlier than, however “Father John Misty: huge band chief” might be not a curve very many noticed coming as a profession improvement in 2022. The eclectic singer-songwriter definitely hasn’t been shy about using orchestration earlier than, to the purpose of bringing his personal sizable string part out on tour on his final pre-pandemic outing, in all probability at appreciable private expense. However the strings are lusher now, he’s not simply including woodwinds and horns to the combination and, in his fifth “Chloë and the Subsequent twentieth Century,” he’s harking again fairly flagrantly at instances to the (earlier) twentieth century’s first half, with at the very least a few of the new songs steeped within the fashionable music of the ’30s and ’40s.
It was actually anybody’s guess how Misty delving into pre-rock pastiche territory would possibly go, provided that he by no means confirmed that vast a bent towards musical nostalgia up till now, even when his literate indie-pop leaned towards the ornate. And his trademark existential considerations don’t actually shout “Hey, let’s rub a little bit Tex Beneke on this.”
Or do they? “Chloë” works in a giant manner, when you’ve settled into the consolation of realizing the distinctive mixture of darkish themes and generally lighter music just isn’t going to be an train in camp, though a specific amount of irony undoubtedly figures into it. A part of why it’s so profitable is that Misty stays a shifting goal all through the album. Solely about half the songs are distinctly in that Despair/WWII throwback vein, whereas others make use of the orchestration on tunes that fall extra squarely right into a ’60s/’70s singer-songwriter mode. And someway, arranger Drew Erickson threads the needle between these two modes relatively seamlessly, so that you aren’t considering you’re in a troopers’ canteen one second and chilling with Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell the subsequent, though that’s sort of what it comes all the way down to. It’s as gorgeously organized an orchestral-pop report as we’ve gotten in years, and no matter Misty paid Erickson and returning producer Jonathan Wilson to carry all of it collectively, they need to each get a elevate.
However is there any overriding thematic purpose why Misty wished to carry these songs out of an indie chamber-pop realm and proper up onto the bandstand? There are some that may be fathomed, however let’s say proper off the bat that that is Misty’s most mysterious report, though it appears on paper prefer it should be his most peculiarly definable. Gone, for probably the most half, are the grand statements concerning the that means on life — or the shortage of it — that characterised his signature album, 2017’s agnostic masterpiece “Pure Comedy.” But additionally absent, for many intents and functions, are the extra private, grounded reflections that made 2018’s “God’s Favourite Buyer” really feel like his most autobiographical album in addition to his most accessible. “Chloë and the Subsequent twentieth Century” comes off as a set of ciphered quick tales during which we’re often studying solely about two-thirds of what we have to correctly suss the narrative. That’s OK, although — a few of the particulars he offers are so literal that they’re LOL humorous, and he even shares some blatant philosophical asides, so that you’re by no means feeling cheated, even in case you’re confused.
If I needed to guess why Misty/Tillman went so retro with a few of these songs, I’d enterprise to say it might have one thing to do with how most of the girls in these songs — beginning with Chloë herself, within the album opener — seem like deeply charming socialites and not using a exact ethical compass. So perhaps it’s an album with plenty of Daisy Buchanans, main Misty to ascertain himself as a little bit of a smitten Jay Gatsby, or at the very least a note-taking Tom Buchanan. “Chloë is a borough socialist / She insists there’s not far more to it / Than drinks with a sure component / Of downtown artwork criticism,” he sings within the opening stanza, setting a sure sort of male-gaze temper proper on the outset. It seems the titular girl is a not simply an object of need for the narrator however a supply of prescribed drugs: “How Benzedrine’s supposed to handle / Your shoplifting’s anyone’s guess,” he sings in a kind of aforementioned chuckle strains. He’ll admit that “her soul is a pitch black expanse,” and concede some worries about a few earlier lovers that appear to have met with deadly accidents. On the finish, somebody appears to take a dive off a balcony, though it’s not totally clear whether or not it’s her or him. Anyway, the cheerfully Glenn Miller-esque tune assures us we shouldn’t fret an excessive amount of about both social gathering’s destiny.
After which, simply as rapidly as “Chloë” has set listeners to considering that that is going to be an album of flapper-invoking enjoyable, the report makes an on the spot 180 with the second quantity, “Goodbye Mr. Blue.” The title determine on this one is a beloved cat, which expires over the course of the track, paralleling the gradual demise of the connection between its two separating care-keepers. You don’t should be a cat particular person to get simply how sadcore this track goes to be, even when there’s a hint of underlying wit in the best way Misty attracts out the main points of this couple having used up all of its 9 lives. Anybody who’s been in a divorce will acknowledge the emotional particulars, if not the precise cat meals invoked: “We used to put round simply laughing at what these freaks on the market have been making an attempt to show / Nicely, what’s losing time if not throwing it away on work / When the final time comes so quickly.”
The music on that one couldn’t be much less caught within the big-band period. The finger-picking guitar locations it extra within the time of Fred Neil and “Everyone’s Talkin’,” and though the strings on it are not any much less blatant within the association than wherever else on the report, they’re within the realm of the spookier moments of Bobbie Gentry’s first couple of albums, or one thing Van Dyke Parks would have provide you with. And so in simply a few songs has “Chloë and the Subsequent twentieth Century” established its breadth. Components of the album are going to make you consider flappers. And components of it is going to evoke “Nilsson Sings Newman,” in how a very beautiful, calm tenor, Harry Nilsson, took on the actually raggedy, rough-edged songwriting of Randy Newman, though Misty in fact will get to imagine each roles.
The fabric generally will get extra cryptic than there… though, in a single case, it’s a lot much less. As idiosyncratic as a lot of the songwriting is, there’s one utterly easy quantity within the combine that must be probably the most easy piece he’s ever written, or at the very least launched. That’s “Solely a Idiot,” which, though it has a light-swing association, sounds at its core like one thing Willie Nelson or Harlan Howard may need written for Patsy Cline within the countrypolitan period. “I couldn’t fathom manner again when / How I’d lengthy to have you ever break my coronary heart repeatedly,” he sings along with his coronary heart so plainly on his sleeve, in language so easy, it’s like a ghost from Music Row previous has possessed the often wordier Misty for just a few candy minutes.
To not fear — the weirder Misty will return. That occurs in a giant manner with the album climax, the practically seven-minute “The Subsequent twentieth Century,” which is the one monitor on the report that doesn’t appear to have a foot in some other period than our personal; it even has a loud squall of electrical guitar a couple of minutes in that’s extremely uncharacteristic of anything on it. The temper is beautiful, however more and more doom-laden, as Misty makes use of a pair from apparently totally different racial backgrounds as the place to begin for a stream of consciousness about ancestral strife and the inevitability of human catastrophe, with nothing discovered earlier than demise results in the subsequent turnover of generations. I feel Misty is making an attempt to place a barely constructive spin on issues on the finish of this magnum opus — “I’ll take the love songs, and provide the future in trade,” he sings, probably offering a raison d’etre for doing an album that invokes the previous. However it nonetheless is likely to be probably the most miserable track he’s ever written, which, for Misty, is saying one thing.
However oh, what enjoyable we’ll have in getting there! And that darker-than-dark capper doesn’t do something to erase the fabric alongside the best way that does have some mirth to it. That features the primary single, “Humorous Lady,” one other one of many album’s pre-rock pastiche numbers, which particulars one more obsession with a social butterfly, this time an actress who “charmed the pants off Letterman.” (Followers have puzzled if this track is a roman a clef about an actual superstar Misty was infatuated with, and perhaps it’s, though he’s cautious to put an amusing element about how she is “doing interviews for the brand new live-action Cathy” to put it within the realm of interval fiction.)
After all, the music video for “Humorous Lady” made the intent of the tune utterly clear by… having a digital jellyfish as its star. That’s an instance of how Misty (who has not been on the market asserting himself within the press recently) doesn’t intend to make something about “Chloë and the Subsequent twentieth Century” too straightforward graspable, though there are a few thousand pleasant issues about it to make you need to latch on. He’s elusive even within the midst of taking over a brand new musical persona that appears high-concept. However it’s that mixture of intriguing opacity and occasional open-heartedness — and his twin inclinations between deep philosophizing and deadpan comedy — that give “Chloë” the oddball breadth to be among the best albums of the yr.