By Fernando Bazan
“Be the Cowboy” is the fifth studio album for indie rock artist Mitski, yet it stands out on her music catalog for how well it did commercially. “Be the Cowboy” was released Aug. 17, 2018, and since its release, it has received great reviews and widespread acclaim.
Although Mitski’s music is most known for its careful layering of soft guitar riffs, soothing warm vocals and sticking to a specific sound throughout the album, this one is different. “Be the Cowboy” moves away from the norms and tries something new. Mitski has gone on record saying she wanted to deviate from replicating the same sound in order to avoid seeming boring repetitive.
The title of the album, “Be the Cowboy,” is supposed to serve as a reminder to be okay with being alone. The figure of a cowboy is painted as someone who is solitary but embraces it as a part of their personality.
There are 14 tracks on this record and four of them are under two minutes, which might seem odd. Mitski has made these 120-second songs direct, bold and with a memorable idea.
Mitski illustrates on this album that loneliness does not equal isolation by touching on the idea that despite being surrounded by fans she still feels empty inside at times. “You have thousands of people looking at you. But they’re not looking at you. You’re a performer.” said Mitski in an interview with GQ.
“Old Friend”, the third song on the album, is about rekindling past friendships that have ended because of a dispute over something trivial. It begins with a gentle piano riff and after the first chord, Mitski’s voice comes into the track with her iconic soft voice. These elements combined give the feeling as if she is pleading for her old friend to have coffee with her.
Throughout the record, Mitski is playing the character of someone who feels desperately isolated so she reaches out to everyone she can in order to grab the tethers of past relationships.
Mitski even acknowledges that she might be getting herself back into toxic relationships, but she will do it in order to fill this hole in her heart.
On the track “Lonesome Love,” Mitski talks about how she longs to feel happy for herself. She wishes to be able to love herself for who she is, but she can’t and needs artificial validation through others that never really satisfies her.
“Two slow dancers” is the last song on the album. It has the simplest instrumentals of any song on the album, but it works to her favor. The strength of this song is the melodic pacing which makes it feel almost like a slow burn that eventually erupts.