Be the Cowboy
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Mitski’s Be the Cowboy is a fabulous album, one you didn’t know you needed. More comfortable with her anxieties, and articulating them beautifully, she has taken a pop turn on her fifth studio affair. She is more playful, content with her discontentedness, but still deeply feeling.
Mitski thinks a lot about loneliness. The feeling is universal, but is particularly poignant in the context of being a touring musician. But she sounds skeptical, like loneliness is a part of life, not a sickness to cure. “Why am I lonely for lonesome love?” is the chorus of “Lonesome Love” and the question at the heart of Be the Cowboy. The cowboy is a loner, someone complacent in their solitude. Maybe she isn’t sad; she’s just thinking out loud.
The cathartic quality of pop-punk (that feeling of being pissed off while having a lot of fun singing along) is part of Mitski’s magic. It’s even more of a party when her entire album takes on a pop mentality. The first single, “Nobody,” is a disco song, complete with hand claps and dance breakdowns. But it’s also a portrait of someone alone on Christmas, each line a new specific flavor of heartache.
Stylistically, Be the Cowboy doesn’t linger too long in one place. Her quivering, theatrical vocals are striking against the relatively stripped down pop. “Me and My Husband” is rooted in piano and lifted by an effusive horn section. A starry-eyed love song, “Pink in the Night” is breathless and desperate. The stifling heartbreak of running into an ex is fodder for “Old Friend.” Emotional bombs like, “Every time I drive through the city where you're from / I squeeze a little,” are tossed from behind a delicate piano.
The more experimental tracks on the album shine just as brightly as the pop ones. “A Horse Named Cold Air” is a haunting, sparse track, a poem of regret. “Two Slow Dancers” examines the acute nostalgia of returning to a place from childhood, after lives have been lived. It’s another restrained ballad, but with some sparkly synths for a dose of pop appeal.
Mitski’s songwriting is consistently her strength, and Be the Cowboy really shows it off. She has the compassion of a writer; the eye of someone seeing beneath the surface. In her book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes, “...this is what good writing allows us to notice sometimes. You can see the underlying essence only when you strip away the busyness, and then some surprising connections appear.” Mitski celebrates the mundane, dressing it up with moving music and juicy insights.
Notable Tracks: “A Horse Named Cold Air” | “Nobody” | “Old Friend”