It’s always cool to see someone from the DIY world ascend to the point where they’re getting interviewed on talk shows, and it’s even cooler when they turn out to be really good at it. That’s the case with Mitski, who released the excellent Be The Cowboy album last month. Mitski is great … More »
With her fifth album, Mitski has solidified herself as one of the most advanced American songwriters. Or, at least that’s how Iggy Pop would put it. But the superlative bears out: Be The Cowboy is an album of vignettes, largely eschewing traditional song structure in favor of intense, precise portraiture. The songs on … More »
Be the Cowboy
[Dead Oceans; 2018]
“Cowboys have to kiss out there on the range, there’s no girls.”
– Dr. Steve Brule, Check It Out!
John C. Reilly’s Dr. Steve Brule is a pillar of loneliness. He seeks out companionship through his crudely made public access TV show Check It Out!, a program in which he loutishly explores a tapestry of broad topics in episodes like “Food,” Pleasure,” and the source of the above quote, “Horse.” As he sets out to learn about an episode’s given subject, interviews are conducted with local personalities, during which time the doctor’s desperation for friendship becomes painfully apparent. He inveterately mispronounces people’s names and simple words, commits easily avoidable faux pas, and is quick to overshare information about his horrifying interior life. Brule’s entreaties for human connection are routinely denied, naturally, as his inept social graces and childlike (mis)understanding of the world inhibit any meaningful personal interaction with his respondents. So when Brule makes a comment like the one above about lonesome cowboys taking solace in each other in the absence of their wives, he’s really just projecting, hoping his interviewee (the stolidly even-keeled ranch hand Rolando Wolovich) will admit to feeling the same caliber of loneliness.
Dr. Steve Brule spends much of his life in solitude, unbearably alone and equally self-unaware. And this is the kind of feeling Mitski Miyawaki taps into for Be the Cowboy. The characters in her songs don’t lack the basic savoir faire of Dr. Brule (even if they feel just as socially stunted), but they mostly suffer from a similarly indignant loneliness. There’s the narrator of “Nobody,” whose opening plaint goes, “My God, I’m so lonely,” and soon after compares her debilitating solitariness to the destruction of Venus: “Venus, planet of love, was destroyed by global warming/ Did its people want too much, too?” On the succeeding track “Pink in the Night,” Mitski assumes the role of the spurned girlfriend, tracking the despair of a woman dying to redeem her overzealous affection: “I know I’ve kissed you before,/ But I didn’t do it right. Can I try again?” In these songs, there’s an urgent need for self-flagellation and course correction, but unfortunately the moment for rectification has passed.
Elsewhere, however, Cowboy is a work of unalloyed confidence. “Me and my husband, we’re doing better/[…] We’re sticking together,” Mitski proclaims on the triumphant “Me and My Husband.” On the opener “Geyser,” she uses that eponymous metaphor as an analog for power, verve, and passion, crying “I’m a geyser/ Feel it bubbling from below.” The characters in these songs range from craven and nebbish to empowered and vivacious, but it’s through the lens of Mitski’s songwriting that not one of these perspectives ever feels contrived or underdeveloped.
Miyawaki began her music career with 2012’s Lush, which somehow adeptly melded elements of jazz, chamber pop, and rock together, so Cowboy’s grab bag of genres isn’t necessarily unexpected. Nor is the way she reassembles the multitude of disparate styles. Instead, what’s interesting about this album is the way she goes about vivisecting hallmarks of other genres in indie rock’s periphery. The sickly, domineering synth lines in “Washing Machine Heart,” wrested from the songs of Lady Gaga’s early albums and other mid-00s pop hits, feel unexpected and fresh when removed from the sleek dance floor bombast with which they’re so often associated. Likewise, the staid piano on “Come into the Water” sounds much less dramatic and more atmospheric than the power ballads of The Fray and Train that it’s been cribbed from. The album is a bricolage of small musical samples, but centering Cowboy’s varied sounds is the through line of Mitski’s singular voice.
The title Be the Cowboy seems, at first glance, like a strange, highly specific way of saying, “man up.” After all, the American cowboy has been mythologized into a paragon of honor, individualism, and old school masculinity, with men like John Wayne cast as its figurehead. But this image of the cowboy is complicated by the fact that Wayne’s real name is Marion and that he spent his time wearing makeup and costumes onscreen and propagating white supremacist ideology offscreen. The cowboy, then, is a symbol of duality, at once virtuous and perverse. So Mitski explores a bifurcation of her own here: the vulnerability of self-proclaimed loneliness and the innate empowerment of autonomy and solitude.
Cowboy’s cover art features Mitski sporting bright red lipstick and a neutral-colored swim cap, while the hand of an individual out of the shot looms over to titivate her eyelashes. She looks away, defiantly, fixing her gaze instead on us, intimidatingly, almost accusatorily. Be the Cowboy is about capriciousness, denying the contrivances of beauty in some ways while bending to its standards in others. She’s walking the divide between love and heartache, between dejection and fury. But Miyawaki has the talent to straddle that line with poise and aplomb; she’s the geyser and also the slow dancer. She’s singing for herself, but also for her audience. There’s a little Mitski in us all, pilgrim.
Last month, Mitski shared the lead single for her forthcoming album Be The Cowboy. “Geyser” opens the LP with the confessional intensity we’ve come to expect from Mitski. But what follows is a careful character study. With this album, Mitski said she wanted to develop “a very controlled icy repressed woman who is … More »
Iggy Pop gave Mitski and Justin Vernon his seal of approval today on his BBC 6 show. “She’s a great talent. For me she’s probably the most advanced American songwriter that I know,” he says of Mitski. “If it’s not her, maybe I would say Justin Vernon, the Bon Iver guy. But this young woman … More »
Did you do it?
Hold all of that aforementioned Mitski shit in your mind…okay?
Now: add these tour dates to the end of all those other ones (damn, you are such a pushover):
10.19.18 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer &
10.20.18 – Boston, MA – House of Blues &
10.21.18 – Montreal, QB – L’Astral &
10.22.18 – Toronto, ON – Opera House &
10.23.18 – Detroit, MI – Magic Stick &
10.25.18 – Chicago, IL – Vic Theatre &
10.26.18 – Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue &
10.30.18 – Vancouver, BC – Imperial &
10.31.18 – Seattle, WA – The Showbox &
11.01.18 – Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom &
11.03.18 – San Francisco, CA – Warfield Theatre &
11.07.18 – Los Angeles, CA – The Wiltern &
11.08.18 – Phoenix, AZ – Crescent Ballroom &
11.10.18 – Austin, TX – Emo’s Austin &
11.11.18 – Austin, TX – Trees &
11.13.18 – Nashville, TN – The Basement East &
11.14.18 – Atlanta, GA – Masquerade: Hell Stage &
11.16.18 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club &
11.30.18 – Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Steel
12.01.18 – Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Steel
& Jessica Lea Mayfield
Her Puberty 2 was hailed by many (us included) as one of 2016’s best albums. But it’s been an uncomfortably long time since puberty, you know? Luckily, today, the many post-pubescent may rejoice! For Mitski has announced her long-awaited (even though two years isn’t that long [but what is time anyway, when great music is at stake???]) follow-up, Be The Cowboy.
Commenting on the new album, Mitski reveals that, while maybe not necessarily writing in character, she did experiment with narrative and fiction. More specifically, she kept “a very controlled icy repressed woman who is starting to unravel,” in mind while crafting her songs. “Because women have so little power and showing emotion is seen as weakness, this ‘character’ clings to any amount of control she can get. Still, there is something very primordial in her that is trying to find a way to get out.”
This mindset can certainly be heard in “Geyser,” the lead single and lead track off of Be The Cowboy, where the music swells from a single, looming drone before — as its namesake might — erupting out of the ground, trying to launch all of its pent-up emotion straight into the stratosphere.
Be The Cowboy is set to be released on August 17 via Dead Oceans. You can pre-order it here. While you’re making sure you won’t overdraft on your debit card though, make sure to scroll down to watch the Zia Anger-directed video for “Geyser,” as well as check out the artwork and full tracklisting for Be The Cowboy. We’ll even throw in some Mitski tour dates for free too.
Be The Cowboy
02. Why Didn’t You Stop Me
03. Old Friend
04. A Pearl
05. Lonesome Love
06. Remember My Name
07. Me And My Husband
08. Come Into the Water
10. Pink in the Night
11. A Horse Named Cold Air
12. Washing Machine Heart
13. Blue Light
14. Two Slow Dancers
Mitski tour dates
06.09.18 – Bozeman, MT – Rialto Bozeman – solo
06.12.18 – Fort Collins, CO – The Armory ^ – solo
06.14.18 – Santa Fe, NM – Meow Wolf ^ – solo
06.16.18 – El Paso, TX – The Lowbrow Palace ^ – solo
06.16.18 – Marfa, TX – Crowley Theater ^ – solo
06.20.18 – Oxford, MS – Proud Larry’s ^ – solo
06.22.18 – Gainesville, FL – High Dive ^ – solo
06.23.18 – Savannah, GA – El Rocko ^ – solo
06.30.18 – Woodstock, NY – Colony % – solo
09.19.18 – Manchester, UK – Manchester Gorilla *
09.20.18 – Glasgow, UK – Saint Luke’s *
09.22.18 – Dublin, IE – Tivoli Theatre *
09.24.18 – Leeds, UK – Brudnell Social Club *
09.25.18 – Bristol, UK – Trinity Arts Centre *
09.26.18 – London, UK – O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire *
09.28.18 – Paris, FR – La Maroquinerie *
09.29.18 – Antwerp, BE – TRIX
10.01.18 – Cologne, DE – Gebäude 9 *
10.02.18 – Amsterdam, NL – Paradiso Noord (Tolhuistuin) *
10.04.18 – Berlin, DE – Musik & Frieden *
10.05.18 – Vesterbro, DK – Vega *
10.06.18 – Hamburg, DE – Uebel & Gefährlich *
# = Briana Marela
^ = Katie von Schleicher
% = Caroline Rose
* = EERA
Mitski has announced her much-anticipated follow-up to 2016’s Puberty 2. It’s called Be The Cowboy, and it’ll be out 8/17. It was once again recorded with Patrick Hyland, who she’s worked with on her last three albums. In a press release, she says that for the album she “experimented in narrative and fiction,” citing … More »