The first time I listened to the new Mitski album I broke down crying within the first 10 minutes of my drive to work. Having seen her live, I knew the emotional power she was capable of conjuring, but the beauty and pain present in this work was unlike anything I had heard in a long time. With each listen, it has grown abundantly clear that I have been listening to a modern great fully reaching the heights of her abilities.
Mitski has spent the last 4 years skyrocketing to both indie and pop fame through her critically acclaimed albums Bury Me at Makeout Creek (2014) and Puberty 2 (2016). The success of these albums, combined with an intense touring schedule including opening for the Pixies in 2017 and Lorde in 2018, has made Mitski a household name. Despite the success, the whirlwind of activity led Mitski to feel drained and isolated. These emotions, combined with the idea of a single performer alone on a stage and attempting to emulate the swagger of a cowboy, led to the creation of the crushingly beautiful Be the Cowboy.
The album gracefully enters with lead single “Geyser,” opening to droning keyboards and Mitski’s peaceful voice. This isolated peace is quickly disrupted by a distorted screech, the entrance of a piano, and a soft tambourine, each taking the song in a new direction, culminating in an assault of guitars and synthesizers “bubbling from below” the loneliness. This creates the effect of a curtain opening behind this lone performer, revealing a massive band backing them. The remainder of the first half of the album feels this way, reverting back to sounds of isolation on “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” and “Old Friend,” which play out like Mitski playing guitar and singing along to a drum machine in a small club, with the curtain opening again occasionally revealing a dynamic accompaniment on tracks like “A Pearl” and “Loneso