'Be the Cowboy' by Mitski, album review by Callie Hitchcock for Northern Transmissions

Dead Oceans

8

Mitski

Be the Cowboy

When Mitski’s driving drums come in halfway through “Geyser” they will knock you out. They sweep you out to sea like undertow. It’s futile to resist Mitski’s raw power. “Geyser” felt like the perfect embodiment of Mitski’s ethos– an expression of intense ambiguous longing. “Geyser” specifically emits this kind of catharsis of desperation– Mitski is excellent at portraying a kind of darkness that isn’t cliche or overblown.

Saying that Mitski is powerful and vulnerable is a false dichotomy. She is the power of vulnerability. Her intensity feds from her honesty, her searching. She is the woman stone face screaming into her electric guitar on NPR’s Tiny Desk and she is leaving nothing out. This album can be painted with many brushes. Among the distortion (less this time around), soft rock, hard rock, and indie ballads, are narratives that demand an exploration of their deeper meaning. “Geyser” for example on its surface looks like a song about a lover that she just can’t stop going back to, but she told NPR that it was actually about her intense relationship with music.

Another interesting song that requires excavation is “Me and My Husband.” On its surface it tells the story of a woman waiting for her husband, but with lyrics like “I’m the idiot with a painted face, in the corner taking up space, but when he walks in I am loved, I am loved,” she is clearly making a critique on the quality of existence women are led into. Women are constantly apologizing for their existence, and are set up to only feel called into meaning when a man loves them.

A lot of these narratives explore what it means to be a woman looking for love in the world. In “Lonesome in Love” she says “Spend an hour on my makeup to prove something.” In “Come into the Water” she says “Would you tell me if you want me cause I can’t move until you show me.” In “Washing Machine Heart” she says “I know who you pretend I am. Why not me?” But my favorite line of the album is from “Blue Light”: “Out there I’m a sharp knife, are you that
blue light?” Be the cowboy, be the sharp knife, even when the world doesn’t want you to be. The blue light will find you soon enough.

review by Callie Hitchcock