If there’s a moment from Mitski’s new album that seems the most indicative of where she’s currently at musically, it’s the one that happens about 40 seconds in. If you’ve heard Be The Cowboy, you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s the moment in opening track “Geyser”, where Mitski sings the line “you’re the one I want” over a delicate keyboard instrumental, and we hear this electronic “EEHHRR” blast into your eardrums for all but a second. Which, freaked the fuck out of me about the first 5 times I listened to it, but now I’m comfortably expecting with each new listen. The moment seems emblematic since the album is noticeably more polished than Mitski’s 2016 breakout Puberty 2, yet is still just as raw and vulnerable, and still ready to surprise you when you least expect it.
You’d think a more polished, pop-leaning approach like the one Mitski often embraces on Be The Cowboy might smooth over some of her rough edges. After all, it seems like the aim of numerous indie artists once they get big is to make their dance-pop album that no one necessarily asked for. Which will often result in something great like St. Vincent’s Masseduction, or something merely “meh”, like Arcade Fire’s Reflektor. But fortunately, Mitski errs more on the side of great with Be The Cowboy, mostly because these poppier influences aren’t the only sounds she’s interested in exploring.
No, I would say other than the dance/pop elements here, there’s still plenty of catchy indie rock jams, piano stompers, and folkier ballads that make this an often idiosyncratic release from a songwriter uninterested in being pinned down. And whatever eclectic sounds seem to pop up from song to song, they’re always carried through by the firm songwriting behind every one of them. You could certainly say that these are sad songs, as many of them (particularly the single “Nobody”), reek of a kind of loneliness that by all means should be a bummer to listen to.
Yet, somehow, this is a very listenable album. Maybe attribute that to the fact that Mitski can write a catchy melody just as well as she can write a devastating lyric that hits you right in the gut. You could also correlate the album’s listenability with its brevity. Only two tracks on the album breach the 3-minute mark, though none of the songs seem slight. They all seem to have plenty of emotional depth and will often reach these glittering emotional climaxes, while still leaving you abruptly enough to come staggering back for more.
Favorite Tracks: “Lonesome Love”, “Me And My Husband”, “Nobody”