It is often hard to be sure whether or not to take Mitski seriously. Her entire career has the sense of being slightly tongue-in-cheek, evidenced by some of her choices for album titles: Retired From Sad, New Career in Business and Bury Me At Makeout Creek, the latter a quote from The Simpsons.
After five records Mitski has certainly found a recognisably unique style – impossibly catchy solos and elegant vocals, unpredictable chord sequences, and lyrics sliding effortlessly from a stream of consciousness to intensely metaphorical depictions of personal tragedy.
Be The Cowboy is unmistakably Mitski, but more disco. There is something else too, a new kind of power and melodrama. The three singles preceding the album’s release were accompanied by what looked like posters for a movie, with Mitski herself posing in costume, clearly the heroine. The first release ‘Geyser’ suggests that a turbulent love-life had finally given way to true, requited love, proclaiming “You’re the one I want and I’ve turned down every hand that has beckoned me to come”.
This optimism does not persist – the record in a word would be loneliness. ‘Nobody’ conveys unbearable isolation, so desperate for company that she “opens a window to hear sounds of people”. Throughout the record Mitski pairs lyrics of unspeakable sadness and desperation for company (“I just want somebody near me”, “Somebody kiss me, I’m going crazy”) with driving beats, over-inflated riffs and major chords. The result is a palpable sense of unease, verging on anxiety.
At times the lyrics are literal, almost to the point of superficiality, documenting the everyday aches and pains of romance. It would be self-indulgent if it wasn’t so relatable – and any fan of Mitski’s would know that the themes of this record are bigger than just her. There is a timelessness to the narrative Mitski creates and the personas she adopts. In ‘Me And My Husband’ she takes the somewhat sarcastic voice of a downtrodden wife who lives for the moment her husband walks through the door. ‘Two Slow Dancers’ reminisces on a high-school romance, mourning the sad reality that nobody can “stay the same”. This track is the last on the record, and the most honest – its sorrow and nostalgia is in plain sight, not masked by the ironically cheerful facade seen throughout the record.
Image: Courtney Emery via Flickr.