In her latest album, “Be the Cowboy,” Mitski puts down her guitar in favor of the piano and lets us see an unknown dimension of herself. Among a generation of artists more concerned with aesthetic than integrity, Mitski’s style could be called old-fashioned. Mitski is perhaps the most precocious indie singer-songwriter of her generation while remaining in touch with her Japanese heritage while embracing identity.
Her fifth album “Be the Cowboy” is a provocative and vulnerable excavation of her anxieties, equanimity and solace.
The album’s opener, “Geyser,” is an immediate indication of Mitski’s understanding of song dynamic and structure. While her previous albums almost exclusively boast distorted guitar and heavy drum beats, “Be the Cowboy” replaces these instrumental characteristics with carefully constructed structures for each track.
“Be the Cowboy” revisits one of Mitski’s favorite themes to explore: the need for control. On tracks like “A Pearl” she explores this theme in the context of her relationship, where her ability to control escapes her. The album’s obsession with the loneliness of being an icon establishes that this endless pursuit of control is futile. Songs like “Washing Machine Heart” spare us the inconvenience of discovering this truth ourselves.
“Pink in the Night” encapsulates some of the chordal structures that occupied her 2016 album, “Puberty 2.” While Mitski’s songwriting is still front and center, “Be the Cowboy” is no “Puberty 2.” The album takes instrumental risks that echo the ethereal vocal sounds of Lana Del Rey, the balladry of Tobias Jesso Jr., and the indie pop versatility of Angel Olsen.
Each track moves the album along in a compelling way that leaves listeners wondering what sounds will accompany Mitski’s heartbreaking balladry. After “Nobody,” Mitski seems to be escaping from the shackles of the singer-songwriter genre and reaching into the indie scene. In layman’s terms, this is a Mitski album you can dance to.
Mitski has a talent for putting the spotlight on our most suppressed feelings, confronting them herself and providing cathartic release for all her listeners. It would be nearly impossible not to find some empathetic solace in her songwriting. On “Be the Cowboy,” Mitski proves that her fame and success has not hindered this ability, but improved it.