Blending the worlds of pop and rock music is nothing new, but doing it well doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. Mitski’s fifth album, Be the Cowboy, sounds like a pop album on the surface, but below the banging drums and the glistening synths, this album is overflowing with rock-like heartbreak and discomfort.
Mitski has always had a knack for wildly unique imagery to describe her varying emotions (her 2014 album Bury Me at Makeout Creek features the line “And I want a love that falls as fast as a body from the balcony”). On Be the Cowboy, breathtaking development in Mitski’s songwriting ability is paired with convention-defying changes in song structure. Nearly every song consists of stream-of-consciousness laments that are as raw as emotions can possibly be. The fact that she’s able to convey devastating loneliness in a song that only lasts a minute and 50 seconds (“Lonesome Love”) is a testament on its own.
“Nobody” is one of the most anthemic songs of 2018, yet it’s equally isolating. Written when Mitski found herself alone in a hotel room at a Malaysian tour stop, “Nobody” is a fervent release of pent-up emotions. “I’ve been big and small/ And big and small/ And big and small again/ And still nobody wants me/ Still nobody wants me.”
Clocking in at only 33 minutes long, one of Be the Cowboy’s greatest qualities is its brevity. It never overstays its welcome; it leaves you lusting for more when the pianos finally fade on closing track “Two Slow Dancers.”
In both her lyricism and instrumentation, there is a constant feeling of dejection matched by a strong will to find the self-confidence to move on. Be the Cowboy is Mitski’s best album yet.