One look at the cover and you’re struck with a subtle scowl, a look of quiet contempt at your intrusion. Mitski made no secret of how punishing and isolating her heavy touring schedule was, and this weariness is channeled in the glare of an artist undergoing another tired make-up routine, for another performance she hasn’t the energy to muster. Her piercing stare warns us to approach this album with caution.
Mitski Miyawaki has gained a cult following since before even graduating from New York’s Purchase College’s Conservatory of Music, her first two records piano-driven student projects, before introducing fuzzed-out arresting guitar on 2014’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek and to even greater effect on her critically acclaimed Puberty 2, having supported Lorde and Pixies along the way.
Be the Cowboy, off indie label Dead Oceans, continues her emotionally wrought obsessions via the guise of a quasi alter-ego, that of a lone singer under a spotlight in a dark room, with which to explore her new conceptual explorations in narrative and fiction, and giving her tales of love, lust and longing a thematic cohesion.
Each track is on average two and a half minutes, 14 vignettes that never outstay their welcome, hopping from one style to the next with ease, much like Frank Black’s Teenager of the Year. First track and lead single, ‘Geyser’, is a stirring up-swell of organs and strings, deceptively appearing like a love song before reaching a thrilling affirmation of pursuing one’s true calling at all costs. Things take a more playful turn on ‘Why Didn’t you Stop Me?’, electronic bass throbs against brass synths, detailing the dangers of confusing nostalgia with reality. There’s a touch of slacker-grunge to ‘A Pearl’, a thoroughly unsettling anthem with effortless guitar melodies disguising the disquiet at its core, the desire to chase what you know will damage you. The Beatlesesque ‘Me and My Husband’ is a two minute sketch of a married couple, where passion and electricity has been replaced with resignation of each other’s company, the line ‘me and my husband, we are doing better’ delivered with a pained wince behind the loving artifice. Your heart skips a beat on the breath-taking sensuality of ‘Pink in the night’, an intimate universe of infatuation, and the existential relish in the privilege of experiencing such passion, amid rousing reverb-laden delicate guitar work and keys. ‘Washing Machine Heart’ is as catchy as it gets, a feverish pop-stomper with Wurlitzer twee, and album closer ‘Two Slow Dancers’ ends on two ex- high school sweethearts relieving a less complicated youth in one last dance, a dazzling yet sparse finale.
Be the Cowboy is another insightful examination of human relationships in all its messy complexity, and a confident statement by one of the fast becoming great song writers of the era.