The paisley print of Laurel Canyon vanishes under a puff of smoke. Hollywood opulence dressed in a top hat and tails emerges. A marquee above a theatre states in bold: 'Tonite, Chloë and the Next 20th Century. Father John Misty. 'Your name is in lights, baby'. Yet, although blurred, behind the closed glinted doors, a harsh reality lurks. Its honesties, its tragedies. At the forefront is love, real love, through a voice as delicate as a butterfly but tinged with sadness about the world.
From a showbiz white smile, the rip-roaring, ballroom of the 20s glistens in opener Chloë: an Audrey Hepburn musical film. There are piano, brushed drums, strings and an instrumental fit for a tapdance. A star is not born; a concept album is. Chloë has her issues: "Her soul is a pitch-black expanse," but is adored: alas, it's not enough to save her. She was only 31. There are tiny moments where echoes of FJM's past sound mingle into his future: Honeybear gently purrs in the delicacy of gutwrenching Kiss Me (I loved you).
Art Deco pauses with a return to Folkish roots in Goodbye Mr Blue. A cushiony float on endless clouds, Mizz's orchestra- arranged by Drew Erickson- gives a helping hand to the country tones. Mr Blue symbolically passes away, as does a relationship and the ponderings of if only: "This may be the last time/Last time I get out of bed/Put coffee on and try, in your words 'To show some initiative'".
In a material world where there is sharing of lives, Josh Tilman has withdrawn from media somewhat- only leaving scented love letters on a peaceful Insta account- and also from autobiographical songwriting. As the Great Gatsby himself, characters are made, or stories are told. Maybe a disguise of his real life or fabrication? Physciadelia tormenting narrative We Could Be Strangers tells of a roadside accident stemming from an uninspiring date, but in a dark comedy twist, at least the night is over.
Los Angeles remains a continuous beacon of fascination, whatever period, and Chloë features as a ghostly visage in all songs or they are different ladies affecting the author's path. A character more comfortable behind the scenes adores Funny Girl, bedazzled, moved by the 5ft Cleopatra vision before him. Buddy's Rendevous- sensual organs with painful ahhs and Pure Comedy lyrical rhythm- is that bar, the one where a lone figure perches on the bar, telling anyone in earshot of a changed girl, of a lost girl.
Recorded in the main at Wilson’s Five Star Studios, comrade and producer Jonathon Wilson and engineer and mixer Dave Cerminara understood the assignment in trust and let loose on the playful bossa nova tones of Olvidado, working out perfect structures for their subject's voice. A soundtrack to a noir cutout animation waltzes past in (Everything But) Her Love: melodies dreams are made of, while vintage Disney hoe down hues colour Only a Fool.
Intimately in solitude, the projector whirrs. Sweeping red curtains tied with gold tassels frame a modest screen. The uplights dim; the credits roll for Q4: an early 70s number that could stride straight onto the soundtrack of Paul Thomas Anderson's Licorice Pizza. Mistifyer's all-encompassing drums return with a tinge of Strange Encounter, cinematic progression, and bonus added harpsichord. The song sings of Simone Caldwell: a frustrated and ruthless author who pens the biographical novel 'As If'.
The Next 20th Century, epicness akin to Birdie, is the sweeping finale before red roses land on stage. Uncomfortable notes, hushed shadows and Arabian Night strings underscore a seven-minute sermon with castanets and stadium rock guitar solo; it is an incredibly beautiful nightmare: "Everything must change/but none of us here/Will ever see the promised land." Are we as far removed from the real-life person underneath the Father John Misty cloak as we have ever been? Possibly. Yet Josh Tillman is there, camouflaged within the art, but present, and he has written a masterpiece.