In an interview a few years back Mitski responded to Damon Albarn dismissing modern musicians as the ‘selfie generation’ by saying ‘Young artists talking about themselves can be the most political thing done today, and is something a lot of them couldn’t have done before, or at least not to an audience.’ On her new album ‘Be The Cowboy’ Mitski’s songs use the personal try to make sense of the complex world around her; constantly asking questions and contemplating her relationships. In the cover picture (coincidentally reminiscent of Blur’s Leisure album) Mitski is preparing for her performance, a knowing nod to the unreality of our image driven world. She looks at us sideways, unsmiling. We press play and she dives in.
Geyser is a statement of intent for this album and her career as a whole. She embraces the unstoppable force of her ambition and rejects the outstretched hands of love, security, and everything else trying to pull her away from music. As a metaphor it works for any all consuming relationship, as a song it is a perfect two minute blast of emotion.
Electronic beats in a slow disco St Vincent-style are a feature of Why Didn’t You Stop Me? The disco is not a place of salvation though, dancing your regrets away only makes reality harder to remember.
Confusion and uncertainty about relationships are central to the whole album. On A Pearl she can’t bear anyone’s touch, preferring to go inside her head where a pearl glows in the darkness. The brutal Lonesome Love concludes that in all relationships you may just end up hurting yourself over and over again. She asks herself Why am I lonely for lonesome love? but there are no answers here. Everyone fucks themselves over. These songs are like those moments when you stare at yourself in the mirror, shaking your head.
Remember My Name starts with a dark cutting guitar, as though she wants to remind us that indie rock isn’t dead. I gave too much of my heart tonight, she sings. Being on stage, being the cowboy, has drained her sense of identity. I need someone to remember my name, she wails. Despite it all she’ll keep on searching for heaven among the stars.
The exasperated sigh before the poppy ‘Me and My Husband’ just about sums up every marriage ever. Me and my husband we’re sticking together, she sings with numb denial dripping from every word.
Nobody is another brutal slice of loneliness wrapped up in an indie disco beat. In a better reality this song becomes a hit and she gets to live out that one movie kiss she’s been dreaming of. The hunger to make connections, to be loved recurs on Blue Light as she pleads, Somebody kiss me, I’m going crazy. Solitude sometimes is the coldest place to be.
The album finishes with us watching Two Slow Dancers on the floor. It would be a hundred times easier if we were young again, she sings. But you can’t go back. Nothing stays the same. You have to keep swaying with the music, moving until the end.
Be the Cowboy is full of brilliant, beautiful songs that cut to the heart. Mitski doesn’t have the answers to the eternal questions of life, love and loneliness but thankfully her songs make the fear and uncertainty more bearable.