On her fifth record, ‘Be The Cowboy’, the American-Japanese songwriter conducts grander musical theatrics than before
When Mitski Miyawaki shared ‘Nobody’ in June, the song was a surprising deviation from her distortion-heavy guitar ballads. A wonky disco tune about loneliness that pulsed in offbeat, ‘Nobody’ sounded deliberately different to the musician’s angsty breakthrough records. Sure, it was Mitski, but this time there was added drama.
On her fifth record, ‘Be The Cowboy’, the American-Japanese songwriter conducts grander musical theatrics and tacks an abstract self-portrait to the wall. We hear seemingly personal confessions of toxic love on ‘A Pearl’ (“Sorry, I don’t want your touch”) and plenty of starkly comic truths, such as “Nobody fucks me like me” on the acoustic jangle of ‘Lonesome Love’. But the album is full of other voices or, indeed, dramatisations of the 27-year-old’s personality. It’s no more evident than on ‘Me And My Husband’. Inflated honky-tonk piano and fairground organ whirrs belie a story of a repressed, dutiful housewife. Mitski sings about “the idiot” in the corner “taking up space”, who dreams of escape but stays rooted.
This record is studded with the musician’s common themes of existential dread, depression and ageing. On ‘Two Slow Dancers’, a song that contrasts an awkward first school dance with an ageing waltz, the album’s recurrent humming organ sounds bridge a generational gap. “It would be a hundred times easier / If we were young again,” Mitski croons over the moonlit keys and wistful strings. Premature feelings of nostalgia are so beautifully evoked by someone with a lifetime ahead of them.
Those less enchanted by Mitski’s experimentation with noir and electro showtune glitz (‘Come Into The Water’, ‘Washing Machine Heart’) can still dig up the grit of her earlier efforts on tracks such as ‘Why Didn’t You Stop Me’ and ‘Remember My Name’. Yet, while ‘Be The Cowboy’ hears Mitski traverse new sounds, new voices, and the anxieties of growing older, it’s clear the wisdom was already there.
Release date: August 17
Record label: Dead Oceans