REVIEW: Mitski’s ‘Be the Cowboy’

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WRITTEN BY: Lily Sanders

Tales of love, loss, loneliness, and longing oversaturate contemporary music, but often
they just don’t get it right. Love, in popular music, is often portrayed as being on this polarized
spectrum. It manifests as intense infatuation or devastating heartbreak. But there are obviously
many gradations of multidimensional feelings in between.

Mitski’s latest release, Be The Cowboy, avoids this clear cut depiction of relationships
through vivid storytelling. Her talented lyricism shines as each song tells a unique story. Some
songs are based upon personal experience, whereas others are fictional, but all convey the mood
of the album with equal conviction.

Each of her 14 tracks tackles a unique, and often overlooked perspective on interpersonal
relationships, or lack thereof. “Nobody,” arguably the most popular song on the album, was
originally released as a single. Mitski wrote the song about staying in Malaysia during the
holidays after her Asia tour, and the loneliness that came with being away from those she cares
about. She sings “My God, I’m so lonely So I open the window To hear sounds of people.”
Mitski channels her unhappiness into lyrics alongside an upbeat disco track, because as she said
in an interview with The 405, “all I can really do is dance. There’s nothing else I can do; I can’t
talk this away, I can’t fix these problems, I’m just going to go out and dance.” It seems
paradoxical, but there’s something so right about the combination. “Blue Light” similarly
addresses yearning for love but it’s sound slowly unravels as the song progresses. It ends with
droning accompaniment and a haunting choral sound. Other songs, like “Remember my Name,”“Geyser,” and a “Horse Named Cold Air” share a similar discontent of the status quo and of
Mitski’s reality.

Tracks like “Lonesome Love,” “Pink in the Night,” and “Washing Machine Heart”
consider the complexities of love and heartbreak. In “Lonesome Love,” she discusses meeting
with an ex and falling apart because, “nobody butters me up like you and nobody fucks me like
me. It starts as a lighthearted tune accompanied by acoustic guitar, but Mitski soon reverts back
to her moody tone. The use of sound to tell stories is truly remarkable. Whereas “Pink In the
Night” paints the picture of a harmonious, beautiful heartbreak, as contradictory as that may
seem. Mitski also addresses the tiresome repetition of domesticity, something she has not
experienced herself, but foresees in tracks like “Me and My Husband” and “Come into the
Water.”

The last major theme in Mitski’s Be the Cowboy is nostalgia. “Old Friend” and “Two
Slow Dancers” tell stories of former lovers. The synthy piano ballad, “Old Friend,” is the story
of someone wanting to meet at an old diner and reminisce with a former lover. She talks about
how they’ve moved on, but something tells me she hasn’t. Mitski sings, “Every time I drive
through the city where you’re from I squeeze a little.” She’s still pained by the thought of them.
“Old Friend” is not an ineffective song by any means, but “Two Slow Dancers” is the more compelling of the two. It is the heart wrenchingly poignant portrayal of two former lovers
meeting at a school dance. She sings “It would be a hundred times easier if we were young
again,” slowly and softly as a piano-like synth chimes in the background. It serves as a perfect
outro to the album.

With the success of her 2016 release Puberty 2, expectations for Be the Cowboy were
understandably high, but Mitski managed to outdo herself. It’s probably her saddest album to
date, but also one of her most emotionally raw. She successfully diversified her sound
throughout Be the Cowboy’s Tracks while making it flow with the stories she tells. Even for
those who are admittedly not fans of indie rock, it’s definitely worth a listen due to her
immaculate storytelling.

Be The Cowboy Tracklist:

  1. Geyser
  2. Why Didn’t You Stop Me
  3. Old Friend
  4. A Pearl
  5. Lonesome Love
  6. Remember My Name
  7. Me And My Husband
  8. Come Into the Water
  9. Nobody
  10. Pink in the Night
  11. A Horse Named Cold Air
  12. Washing Machine Heart
  13. Blue Light
  14. Two Slow Dancers