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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Mitski grapples with love on “Be the Cowboy”

Lina Domenella | The Observer
Lina Domenella | The Observer

It’s 2018 and Mitski is still looking for love.

But this year, on her new album, “Be the Cowboy,” there’s something different.

On her past albums, the New York-based singer-songwriter and burgeoning indie rock superstar has fallen in love with an innocence and teenage lust only fitting of albums named “Bury Me at Makeout Creek” and “Puberty 2.”

On “Be the Cowboy,” Mitski’s love, and desire to be loved, has matured; she’s no longer “a love that falls as fast as a body from the balcony” as she did on “Townie” off “Bury Me at Makeout Creek” or hoping to be someone’s “little spoon” as she yearned for on “Your Best American Girl” on “Puberty 2.” Instead, Mitski’s desire to love has matured thanks to a recent breakup — the subject of most of the album. On “Nobody” — a song which explores her isolation after the breakup — Mitski pleads that she “just need[s] someone to kiss/give me one good honest kiss and I’ll be alright.”

“Nobody,” which serves as the emotional thesis of “Be the Cowboy,” stands out as the album’s signature track, combining a dance and indie rock sound and vivid lyrics to tell a story of loneliness, desperation and a need for human contact.

It’s been a pretty good year for Mitski. Not only has she been hailed by Iggy Pop as “a great talent ... probably the most advanced American songwriter that I know,” but she also toured the globe alongside Lorde on her “Melodrama” world tour.

Praise from the godfather of punk rock and the princess of offbeat pop certainly comes with its perks — namely a creative license to explore new sounds and ideas.

This new freedom to explore and experiment shines through on “Be the Cowboy,” which moves away from the shoegazey and guitar-driven sound of her previous works toward a more simplistic and synthesizer-based sound.

As the artist herself said, she wanted the songs to sound like they had been written centered on “the image of someone alone on a stage, singing solo with a single spotlight trained on them in an otherwise dark room.”

While “Be the Cowboy” as a whole represents a departure from her previous sound, the album’s first track, “Geyser,” is something of a throwback to the sound of her previous albums. The song starts off with an organ playing alone, and Mitski coming in soon after, longing for the love she once knew, calling out to her ex-lover, “You’re the one I want … I keep turning down the hands that beckon me to come.” The song grows from there, slowly building as guitars buzz in the background.

“Me and My Husband” is another highlight off the album. On top of a bouncing piano, Mitski fantasizes about a future loving relationship in which her and her husband have been together so long they are perfectly comfortable with each other.

If the album falls flat in any way, it’s that its tail end falls victim to a little bit of a stale sound, and the songs — especially “Two Slow Dancers” — lose their energy, and therefore the emotional weight of the rest of the album.

In all, though, “Be the Cowboy” is a stunning success. Its new and upbeat sound combined with its vivid lyricism dealing with love, loss and everything in between are able to paint a picture of modern love in a way few singer-songwriters can do.

Artist: Mitski

Album: Be the Cowboy

Label: Dead Oceans

Favorite Tracks: “Nobody,” “Me and My Husband,” “Geyser”

If You Like: Lorde, Eleanor Friedberger

Shamrocks: 4/5