Somebody kiss me / I am going crazy…
The stinging pain of missing a friend, mourning a lover, or feeling lost and terrifyingly alone is dreadful. We bury these feelings, hoping they’ll slowly fade as we run from them.
For Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski, these are merely exercises in being alive; just another day of survival. Through her music, she shares her discomfort and sorrow with audiences in an effortlessly captivating way.
On her latest album Be The Cowboy, Mitski elevates her moody and eclectic guitar-based pop to new heights by stripping down the distortion (which dominated previous albums Bury Me at Makeout Creek and Puberty 2) and singing a little closer to our ears in a vulnerable experiment. Here, she finds delicate new ways to flesh out her feelings of isolation and romantic disappointment.
Seemingly by law, her songs always have a raw emotional quality to them. There is a slow, quiet, and flowery beauty to the gentle sadness of half of the record, which incorporates more keys into its musical palette.
Many songs on the album successfully play with varying musical motifs, such as the shimmering plucky synths on the third track “Old Friend”, which hoists the ballad to ethereal lengths, or the old-country swing bleeding through “Lonesome Love”. Lasting less than two minutes, the most cowboy-ish track in the record has our protagonist trying her best to satisfy the romantic void in her chest and impress one of her conquests. “Spend an hour on my makeup to prove something / Walk up in my high heels all high and mighty.”
The timeless track “Nobody” sounds like a twisted prom anthem with its pretty dangling piano and absurdist disco groove – but its harrowing chorus sounds like what it must feel like to fall into a well of loneliness and darkness, endlessly singing the word “nobody,” encompassing her delivery.
“I don’t want your pity / I just want somebody near me,” she sings, building up to its succinctly evocative chorus.
On songs like “Washing Machine Heart” and “Remember My Name” the singer dives into the role of a woman being used romantically, desperately wanting some companionship, yet knowingly gambling, hoping for a true connection. There is an element of fatigue lingering in every song and it is not just a sentimental one, but a societal one, like she’s emotionally indebted.
The singer-songwriter’s greatest virtues are her acerbic honesty and vulnerability, which do not exploit her pain, but only heighten its weight on the life of a modern woman. And somehow, in the midst of her despair, she remains commanding, her message louder than ever.
On Be The Cowboy, Mitski taps into the seemingly-invisible ritualized discomforts that women face romantically: whether or not they feel a sense of agency. The album evokes a familiar image of hopelessly running away from something and looking for a way out of our feminine toil while foolishly addicted to its mythical reward – willingly serving anyone who’ll exploit us.
by Patricia Cardenas