Pop comes in many forms. Sometimes you find it on the radio as the nation’s favorite dance hit. Occasionally you’ll hear it pulsating from the walls of your favorite nightclubs. Then, sometimes, it pours out of the anxious head of an artist just looking to create something. Mitski’s fifth studio album, Be the Cowboy, explores different avenues of the genre. One moment, she’s playing an acoustically driven folk-pop track and the next she’s throwing out a silky-smooth disco number. Mitski manages to blend these different sounds into the album so intricately.
Be the Cowboy opens with “Geyser.” Structurally, this track is a real roller coaster. At first, Mitski is crooning beautifully along to distorted sound design, and suddenly the track takes a turn down a dark boisterous road of grungy guitars and hard-hitting drums. “Why Didn’t You Stop Me” is a synth-pop track following the record’s opener. Mitski demonstrates here how talented she is at managing all the different elements she wants to put into a song. She uses the drum machine to keep the track together so she can focus on bringing forth fluttering synths, distorted guitars, or horns when she feels the song calls for them. Rather than letting the drum-machine continue to do the work, she takes more control on “Old Friend” melding piano and synth keys together. However, the spotlight shines on Mitski’s soothing vocal performance.
So much has been explored already, that the straight-forward indie-rock songs, “A Pearl” and “Remember My Name” bookending the folk-pop ditty, “Lonesome Love,” should not come as a surprise. Now, if you’re looking for pure unadulterated pop, I give you “Me and My Husband.” When the chorus requires a change in pitch, Mitski manages to control her vocal performance with ease. Next up is, “Come into the Water.” It’s a short dream-pop tune that comes off feeling longer than the minute and a half it clocks in at. The lows of “Come into the Water” are what accentuate the highs of the disco-influenced, “Nobody.” Such a lyrically sad song should not lift you up as much as it does, but the opening notes strike you like a gleaming beam of light.
Mitski’s musical prowess shines brightest on “Pink in the Night.” Such subtlety can make all the difference. We’re fed another dream-pop song that builds and builds slowly with nothing more than the hum of an organ and Mitski’s voice. Bit by bit, she starts to bring in other instruments with a few strums of the guitar here and the beating of the kick drum there – all building to the final cathartic chorus. After a short interlude, “A Horse Named Cold Air,” we’re met with the clap-happy, “Washing Machine Heart,” and pop-rock track, “Blue Light.” The album comes to a close perfectly with the beautiful, “Two Slow Dancers.” It’s a calm, intimate track carried through with Mitski’s voice, and a far-cry from the opening of the record.
Not many albums make me feel like I’ve been on a journey anymore. Be the Cowboy is incredibly cohesive for something that’s filled with so many different styles of music. It’s hard to think of anything these songs may have needed for improvement. They’re damn near perfect. Mitski has delivered her best work yet and easily one of the top albums of the year.
9.5 / 10
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