Mitski doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to love

The image of a “cowboy” is forever burned into society’s collective consciousness. We picture a lone ranger, likely in the American Wild West, solemnly traversing the desert in search of refuge, or even a marked target. Possibly even love.

In “Be The Cowboy,” Mitski invites us all to imagine ourselves in the cowboy’s shoes — a modern cowboy pining for the other, that is. On her fifth heartbreaking album, she continues to pull us into her world, a fascinating, kaleidoscopic showcase of love and all its branches and offshoots. Together with Mitski, we explore the frankly terrifying depths of loneliness and unease, and find that it often goes hand in hand with the experience of giving in to another person.

 

Together with Mitski, we explore the frankly terrifying depths of loneliness and unease, and find that it often goes hand in hand with the experience of giving in to another person.

 

We should’ve been tipped off to how powerful an album this was going to be when the first single, “Geyser,” dropped out of nowhere back in May. As an album opener, it soars. Gone are the layered vocals and the distorted, fuzzy guitar of previous albums. Instead, we are treated to a one-woman force, a full-on belt, accompanied by the banging of what feels like a thousand drums. “Though I’m a geyser / Feel it bubbling from below / Hear it call, hear it call to me.” It’s the perfect tone-setter.

Mitski’s songwriting is the highlight, as always. She’s historically a personal songwriter, but this record evolved into a loose concept album, sometimes eschewing personal experiences to explore various viewpoints of love instead. The back-end of the album chronicles a woman’s journey from infatuation (Pink in the Night, Washing Machine Heart) to utter desperation and deep-seated melancholia (Blue Light, Two Slow Dancers).

It’s also apparent that Mitski is experimenting sonically. While her past works often dealt with a folk-influenced sound signature, occasionally bringing out the electric guitar for explosive singles like “Townie” and “Your Best American Girl,” here we have Mitski dabbling in synthesizers and electronic music. Her increased usage of unlayered vocals also adds to the album’s intimate atmosphere. The line “Can I try again / try again/ try again” from Pink in the Night is delivered with such bravado, and with such clarity that it’s hard to imagine Mitski isn’t crying while singing it.

 

While Mitski still writes sad, complex love songs (some things will never change), only some of them will also have appropriately sad instrumentation — and that’s the point! Love is something that simply isn’t captured linearly — it’s oxymoronic, paradoxic, and absolutely fucking confusing.

 

Disco-funk single Nobody keeps the complex, lonely lyrics (“And I know no one will save me / I just need someone to kiss.”), but the track also intersperses funky, new-wave inspired synthesizer riffs that are just danceable. Remember my Name is an air-guitar worthy homage to glam rock bands of the ‘80s and their search for immortality, coupled with the underlying fear of being forgotten. Cathartic, yes, but Mitski always slaps us in the face when we listen closely.  In fact, her voice is a bit sardonic, huskily inviting us over to get comfortable within her atmospheric instrumentation, only to punch us in the gut with a sudden style change or a thematic ballad on the next track (looking at you, Blue Light, easily the most unnerving track of the album).

Ultimately, the juxtaposition of lyrics and composition is the crux and the driving force of this record. While Mitski still writes sad, complex love songs (some things will never change), only some of them will also have appropriately sad instrumentation — and that’s the point! Love is something that simply isn’t captured linearly — it’s oxymoronic, paradoxic, and absolutely fucking confusing.

This is Mitski’s pathos; she always finds herself soul-searching, painstakingly self-analyzing and self-assessing, most especially when it concerns matters of the heart. And honestly, who can’t relate to this? We’re just lucky to have Mitski to express it in music.

You can listen to ‘Be the Cowboy’ on Spotify.

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