Mitski (photo by Bao Ngo, PR)
Be The Cowboy
Mitski Miyawaki's fifth album, Be The Cowboy, is another impressive chapter in the New York-based singer and songwriter's evolution.
While in college studying music, Mitski's first two piano-based, orchestral albums spun out of class projects and led to her first recording contract. On her third album and first for a label, 2014’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek, her sound expanded to incorporate guitar, pushing away from the classically tinged sound of her prior releases. The label Dead Oceans came calling soon after and in 2016, Mitski released Puberty 2.
For this new release, Mitski emphasizes synthesizers and other keyboards, but not at the expense of the guitar, the primary instrument heard on her previous two albums. With this revised sonic blend as Be the Cowboy's bedrock, Mitski’s new songs center on emotions and relationships, but with a decidedly more focused approach then on Puberty 2.
Mitski's emotional portraits are intensely candid and frank, yet veiled in secrecy too. There's no real sense of what these songs are about or whom they are directed at, nor is there the opportunity to lock into any one feeling or thought for too long. Her songs get to the point quickly and abruptly move on: of the 14 songs on Be The Cowboy, 12 are under three minutes in length and four speed by in under two minutes.
“Geyser,” which deals with obsession, rises from a mesmerizing sea of organs into a dense eruption of synths. “Come Into The Water,” which expresses desire, flows smoothly on a softer synth stream. A pulsating dance beat moves “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” which deals with regret over the end of a relationship.
The pop-driven “Nobody” is a cry of loneliness and longing and the complexities of love and relationships punctuate the deceivingly intense “A Pearl.” Mitski becomes more direct on “Washing Machine Heart,” which plays like a metaphor for romantic intimacy.
Mitski often leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Does “Lonesome Love” reflect positively on a relationship or is it dismissive? The grungy “Remember My Name” seems to be about narcissism while “Me And My Husband” raises the topic of marriage, but who is the couple in question? At the conclusion, “Two Slow Dancers” finishes the album on a gentle, lightly melancholic note.
As with her recent albums, Mitski collaborates again with producer Patrick Hyland on Be The Cowboy — both play the lion’s share of the instruments too.
Be The Cowboy is direct and to the point, yet there is enough mystery to leave itself open for interpretation. Mitski masterfully focuses in on human emotions, but knows not to reveal too much — there's power in leaving a question unanswered.