Albums, Music, The Revue — August 20, 2018 at 5:10 am

Mitski’s complex yet compact ‘Be the Cowboy’ (album review)

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Whether it is sitting behind the piano, ratcheting a distorted electric guitar, or scratching a synthesizer, Mitski Miyawaki – or simply Mitski – has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to make personal vulnerability sound bold and, thus, something to not fear. Instead, as she showed on Puberty 2, she wore it like a badge of honor, revealing to the world she was unafraid of its existence and how it defined her. On her fifth album, Be the Cowboy, she further spirals into humanity’s emotional complexity and delivers a riveting and extraordinary record.

Be the Cowboy is Mitski approaching the zenith of her artistry, as she, with the support of her longtime producer Patrick Hyland, effortlessly move between the cinematic, the exuberant, and heart-ripping ballads. Behind the musical intricacies, the LP revolves two main themes – love and self-identity, which often intertwine. Mitski describes various ways in which love consumes its victims. The album erupts with the soul-ripping “Geyser”, which is an unpredictable display of chaotic wonderment. As distortion fills the air, Mitski’s yearning voice expresses:

“You’re my number one.
You’re the one I want,
And I’ve turned down every hand that has beckoned me to come.”

While “Geyser” swells, closer “Two Slow Dancers” flickers like a candle in a dark room. It is Mitski at her most intimate yet romantic, as she recounts the meeting of two former high-school sweethearts and the flame that still burns inside. What happens next is unknown, but the lustful “Come into the Water” offers one possibility. Softly Mitski asks whether the other person will jump into the water with her:

“Do you wanna be my baby?
Are you waiting to touch me?
You look so good, but I keep my hands
Til you come into the water.”

The groovy and whimsical “Washing Machine Heart” further builds on the staying-or-going theme. “Baby will you kiss me already and
toss your dirty shoes in my washing machine heart?”, she seductively asks her guest. Mitski, conversely, daydreams about the perfect, suburban couple that sticks together through the highs and lows on the alt-pop number, “Me and My Husband”. Is this love, comfort, stability, or all three? Or is she a glutton for punishment, as she reveals on the alt-country ditty, “Lonesome Love”.

Mitski spirals into glitchy disco-pop with “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”, which sees the singer-songwriter wonder out loud why an ex didn’t come back for her. It’s Mitski at her most entertaining yet vulnerable, which lasts until the catchy “Nobody” arrives. One part Donna Summer, another part Barry Manilow, a touch of St. Vincent, and 100% Mitski ambition, the 27-year old reveals the loneliness that overwhelms her. This desire of wanting to be someone is further revealed on the rare rocker “Remember My Name”. She achingly sings:

“I need something bigger than the sky,
Hold it in my arms and know it’s mine.
Just how many stars will I need to hang around me
To finally call it heaven?”

Despite the concern that lingers in her voice, she doesn’t have to worry about people forgetting who she is or the legacy that she will leave behind. With Be The Cowboy, her star shines brightly, illuminating more powerfully than her peers. As her fame rises, so too will the space she occupies and the more people will remember Mitski as one of this generation’s finest songwriters.

Be the Cowboy is out now on Dead Oceans, and it’s available on Bandcamp. Dates for Mitski’s forthcoming tour are available here.

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