Mitski has had one hell of a year. In recent memory, she was still a thoroughly DIY artist. Now, she’s on one of those crazy ascensions where someone rockets out of the indie world and becomes a household name. Newfound fame was already on her mind in 2017, but it seems like it … More »
For the past six years, men have dominated the Grammys to a depressing degree. Earlier this year, a study found that from 2012 to 2017 out of the 899 people nominated, only 9.3% were women — not even double digits! The surge of enlightenment and optimism ushered in with #MeToo and Time’s Up … More »
In the early days of this century, you could still turn on your television and, every so often, catch a music video. It didn’t last. Music videos still exist on television, but niche ventures like the MTV Jams Channel only exist in the shadowy nether reaches of cable subscriptions, and that’s not where music videos … More »
I can’t even blame this on a spontaneous boycott of all non-TMT publications, since we’ve been covering her for a couple of years now, but I’ve been totally oblivious to the burgeoning popularity that’s undoubtedly come with each new Mitski full-length.
Her latest, unofficial homage to the rootinest, tootinest finally earned my attention due to it being verbally promoted by the squirrels in my neighborhood; and for an artist who somewhat famously prefers to keep her personal life private, the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter has certainly made the rounds getting Be the Cowboy to at least the back of everybody’s minds. Here she is doing an interview on the Stewart-less Daily Show, for instance. And there are currently crazy and unfounded rumors of an imminent plan to infiltrate your television sets à la the infamous “Big Brother.” Only, instead of “Newspeak,” she’ll just be talking casually. (Say whaaaaat?)
Less creepily, Mitski just concluded a North American tour. So now it’s time to take it easy for a few years and watch the accolades roll in! …And by “take it easy,” I mean: quickly reign in the new year and then IMMEDIATELY start prepping for an international tour shortly thereafter. The countries receiving the focus this time around are essentially all in the vicinity of Oceania, but you’ve got some airline miles socked away, right?
Check out all the dates “down under” the clip:
01.28.19 – Auckland, New Zealand – Laneway Festival
02.02.19 – Brisbane, Australia – Laneway Festival
02.03.19 – Sydney, Australia – Laneway Festival
02.04.19 – Sydney, Australia – Oxford Art Factory
02.07.19 – Melbourne, Australia – The Corner Hotel
02.09.19 – Melbourne, Australia – Laneway Festival
02.12.19 – Tokyo, Japan – Shibuya WWW X
02.13.19 – Osaka, Japan – Umeda SHANGRI-LA
02.15.19 – Seoul, South Korea – Rolling Hall
02.16.19 – Taipei, Taiwan – The Wall
02.18.19 – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – The Bee
02.20.19 – Jakarta, Indonesia – Rossi Musik
02.23.19 – Singapore – EBX Live Space
Each December, in an effort to celebrate outstanding achievements and commemorate The Year That Was, the pop culture media industrial complex foists lots of lists upon the world. We here at Stereogum are party to that deluge; we shared our collective conclusions about 2018’s best albums a week ago and have been More »
Jack Antonoff has announced Terrible Thrills, Vol. 3, a new collection of songs from Bleachers’ 2017 album Gone Now reworked by Mitski, Julien Baker, MUNA, and Ani DiFranco. Vol. 3 will come as a series of four 7″ vinyl records, with each cover version paired with a different Bleachers rarity or demo. Mitski is doing … More »
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.