What We Missed is WMSR’s review of summer releases.
Even before the “Nobody” music video release in late June, Be the Cowboy was my most highly anticipated album of the summer. I had only heard a few of Mitski’s songs when I saw her open live for Lorde last spring in Columbus, but the image of her there—a small figure in white, unconcerned with filling the stage—made me go home and instantly download her entire discography. As it turns out, I had missed a lot.
Mitski started releasing music in 2012, starting with the self-released albums Lush and Retired from Sad, New Career in Business. After graduating from a music conservatory education, she followed with more excellently/eclectically titled studio releases (and critical successes) Bury Me At Makeout Creek and Puberty 2. Now, since August 17th, we have Be The Cowboy.
Mitski’s latest continues on the theme of what I, and probably some other people on the Internet, call Sad Girl Pop. “Guess I’m a coward / I just want to feel alright,” she croons in “Nobody,” a track that ends with the titular word repeated twenty-six (I counted) times. Her narrators exist largely within themselves, taking note of things like existential loneliness or where in the room it is the least awkward to stand. It is not all easy autobiography, but the stories and images still feel painfully personal. The line “I’m not wearing my usual lipstick / I thought maybe we would kiss tonight” in “Washing Machine Heart” feels both like the ship that launched a thousand angsty Instagram captions and real conversations my friends and I have about our expectations for a Saturday night.
The lush guitar tracks characteristic of Mitski appear in fine form throughout Be the Cowboy, feeling in this iteration slightly more forward-facing than the music of her past albums. Both her vocals and the background are richer, especially towards the beginning of the album. Perhaps one of the only disappointments is when this tonal richness fades, as it does in ending tracks “Blue Light” and “Two Slow Dancers.” The resulting songs aren’t less effective than the rest when taken by themselves, but are too airy as part of a whole. The song transitions also occasionally fail, as is the case between drastically different “Nobody” and “Pink in the Night.”
Still, Be the Cowboy is a triumph, especially if you judge albums on how many people tweet about crying to them. On Mitski’s website, you can celebrate it in puns: a spoon (Feed the Cowboy); a pillow (Dream the Cowboy); and a combination lock (Free the Cowboy). All I’m waiting for now is a photoshoot of Mitski styled as a John Wayne classic.
Key Songs: “A Pearl,” “Me and My Husband,” “Nobody”