Music Reviews
Be the Cowboy

Mitski Be the Cowboy

(Dead Oceans) Rating - 9/10

There are few figures as solitary as the mythic cowboy. The stranger rides into town, but more importantly, also rides out at the end of the story. There may be romance, violence and comradery. But ultimately the cowboy stands alone, powerful and swaggering, but singular. This is the role that Mitski embraces on Be the Cowboy. Immense in execution and focus, the album reveals her own characteristics through characters. It hones in on her desires and loneliness, both in and out of all types of relationships.

Geyser looks at Mitski’s connection with music. While it’s more important than anything else, it’s also turned down “Every hand that has beckoned me to come.” Her passionate vocal delivery rises with the instruments, as an all-consuming organ erupts, like its title implies, into glorious arpeggios of synths, horns and guitars layered over each other. Old Friend is a mostly-acoustic tale of meeting a good friend at a diner. But the song is full of longing. For someone always on the road, it’s not just meeting for coffee. It’s a precious moment with familiar faces.

Remember My Name hits like being repeatedly shoved into an electrified fence, the buzzing instruments harshly cutting in and out. Mitski uses the aggressive setting to sing about what happens after the performance is done and she walks offstage. It catches her in the conflict between her desire to be recognized and the exhaustion of giving so much to her craft every night. On the country shuffle of Lonesome Love, she’s stuck between wanting to be with her partner, wanting to end the relationship and convincing herself that she’s better off alone. “'Cause nobody butters me up like you/and nobody fucks me like me,” she sings exasperated, like she’s gone through this argument a hundred times.

When Mitski writes about romance and isolation, she finds a relatable centerground where her words and emotions strike true. The tracks never tilt over into self-pity or apathy. A Pearl is about toxicity, whether from another or towards oneself. Over grunge riffs, Mitski sings about the harm of letting such a negative relationship become part of herself, stating “Sorry I can't take your touch / It's just that I fell in love with a war / Nobody told me it ended.” Washing Machine Heart is all slippery bass and handclaps, covering similarly destructive feelings with lines like “Toss your dirty shoes in my washing machine heart / Baby, bang it up inside.”

While a few songs here would fit right in on Puberty 2, Mitski stretches her wings wonderfully on this record. Why Didn’t You Stop Me? shimmies along a squiggly synth line and some angular guitar work. The fantastic Nobody is made for dancing away the lonely feelings. Mitski takes her breakdown from spending the holiday season alone and puts it into a bouncy disco beat, with Bee Gees keys and strings and Chic guitar. As she repeats the title, it feels like that word is a life raft she’s grasping for dear life.

Two of the album’s best moments are reflections of each other. Me and My Husband bops with an excellent, seesaw piano groove. It’s about a pair in the prime of their relationship, where insecurities and worries fade away. But Be the Cowboy closes with a melancholy sequel. In Two Slow Dancers, an old couple sways at their high school’s reunion. With their love and their bodies fading, they try to recreate their younger days on the dance floor, to keep the last embers burning.

Through her character writing on Be the Cowboy, Mitski reveals more about her own essence. In a way, everyone is made of different people, depending on the day, the situation or who we’re seeing. We try to find our own archetypes that can adequately represent what we’re feeling. For her, it’s filtered through the attitude of the cowboy, her power coming through in her music and her words. Under these guises, she finds layers of emotional truth that are messy, confusing and often conflicting, but no less honest because of that. [Believe the Hype]