Mitski – Be The Cowboy review

Secret Meeting score: 90

by Joseph Purcell and Phil Scarisbrick

In June of this year, Iggy Pop used his BBC 6 Music show to describe an artist he loves as “probably the most advanced American songwriter that I know”. That artist is the Japanese-born Mitski Miyawaki, better known simply as Mitski. This week, she returned a little over two years after her successful breakthrough album, Puberty 2, which also featured the hugely successful crossover track Your Best American Girl. The eagerly anticipated new album, Be The Cowboy, is fourteen songs traversed over a frenetic 33 minutes of eclectic, modern pop.

Album opener, Geyser, seeps in with a succession of tinny organ notes, floating along under Mitski’s proclaiming vocal before taking off into something closer to stadium rock. This odd transition sets the tone for left-turns that litter the record. Why Didn’t You Stop Me? rolls on a tumultuous 80’s disco synth beat, cut intricately with perfectly-interspersed, razor sharp guitars. Old Friend, is a much quieter affair, yet an undoubted early album highlight. Amid a hazy tale of unrequited love, Mitski’s melodic, morose almost spoken-word delivery is enchanting, as it drives through the song in a wonderfully understated manner, surging and casting a falling whimsical spell as Mitski ponders, ‘I haven’t told anyone, just as I promised’ – a remarkable spellbinding two minutes.

A Pearl’s gentle finger-picked acoustic guitar strings give way to the throbbing wall of sound that fuses the track. Mitski elevates her vocal, full of emotional vigour, before returning to the gentle opening sounds of the intro. This is one of many moments on the record that feel like this could be U2’s meteoric Achtung Baby, only channelled through a different creative mind.

Lonesome Love is a wonderful waltzing snapshot of twisted country, reflecting on failed attempts at love. Mitski contemplates in a haze of endless regrets – ‘Woke up in my high heels all high and mighty’ and ‘Nobody butters me up like you, nobody f*cks me like me’, channelling her frustrations inwards. Remember My Name’s Yeezus-evoking heavy synth opening once again blends into something completely different with Pixies’ Doolittle a clear sonic comparison.

Come Into the Water is a beautiful ninety-two seconds of cascading pop. The track smoulders, stalks and enchants with a vocal equally touched by distress and love. Elegantly fragile and touching, this song makes it easy to see Lana Del Rey is an artistic kindred spirit. Nobody is the album’s lead single and ties together exhilaratingly manic disco beats with a similarly infectious chorus melody. There is an uncomfortable feel to the song that adds to the vulnerability of the repeated ‘Nobody wants me’.

Pink in the Night’s gentle winding echo transcends into a fabulous almost-spoken lyric. The driving cascade of ‘I love you’ grips atop a thudding drumbeat and falling xylophone, as the song builds into a wondrous, cacophonous vortex. Mitski chants – ‘Try again, try again, try again’ with a mix of staunch vigour and psycological exposure. The hollow, lone drum that ends it all feels like our narrator is sapped of emotional energy, functioning only on a basic pulse. Washing Machine Heart hurls sonic claps you’d expect opening a new slice of Flaming Lips craziness before a quickened delivery, pounding bass and exploding synth beat threaten to swamp Mitski’s delicate words. That is until she fights back with snaps of sass to re-establish her vital stranglehold on the this closing track with incredible vocal freshness.

Be The Cowboy is not only a worthy successor to Puberty 2, but actually exceeds its predecessor in both ambition and pop magic. Each track adds more nuance to the narrative being told. The genre-bending blend of disco beats, heavy synths, reflective country, distorted punk and traditional rock means that despite mostly clocking in around the two-minute mark, each track’s impact is greater than the sum of its parts. Mitski’s constant drive for fresh new ideas formulates a long player that keeps you engrossed long after you lift the needle. Listening to this record, you are always alert, waiting for the next stylistic change as the album never settles, always fresh and never tiresome. Be The Cowboy, is a patchwork of musical genres, channelled and expertly pieced together by an irrepressible artist at the height of her talents. At its heart though, this is a pop record. But it is a pop record that is the perfect antidote to the mundanely-beige unit shifters that seemingly dominate the pop landscape.

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