Review Summary: "QUEEN IT’S WHAT YOU DESERVE GET THAT RECOGNITION"
Watching the Genius video for Mitski’s single “Nobody” is just, uh, absolutely fucking absurd.
Mitski Miyawaki sits, buoyant, bubbly, explaining this gutwrenching song about crushing loneliness with the gleaming smile of someone who has only been paying attention to the jazzy instrumental and not the words bouncing across the surface. Ha ha ha ha “[Nobody was]…literally me in a semi-fugue state on my hands and knees just crying” ha ha ha ha. It’s all very funny. It’s like we’re a close friend and she’s being perfunctory because, you know, it’s happened, and she’s moved on -- distilled this sadness into beautiful little vignettes, released them out into the world, and now she’s bracing herself for the next bout of neuroses.
Because while Mitski wrestles with sadness and isolation in her songs a lot (a lot
, you guys, this point is worth stressing), she’s also somehow (we’ll get to that later) relatable in other ways. I’m pretty sure I’ve beaten the dead horse on using the phrase “deeply human” already, but on Be the Cowboy
, the singer-songwriter deftly weaves other themes – all related in some way to her sense of vulnerability-- into her central conceit like they’re minor characters in a particularly histrionic dramatic novel. Desperation flits in and out, Boredom is captured succinctly and accurately (Old Friend
), Momentary Hope gets happy and then its smile dies on its lips just as the teeth are coming out of hibernation.
Maybe it feels like the album dies prematurely. too. Be the Cowboy
is 32 minutes, only 2 of the songs stretch past the 3-minute mark, but to sell it as a setback, I think, would be a mistake. There’s such a rush to these songs and, resultingly, it feels like Mitski is hurrying to capture something before it dissolves into smoke. It’s ephemeral because life is. Criticisms will invariably lament perceived missed opportunities, how Mitski stumbles on a good idea only to abandon it. The horns in Why Didn’t You Stop Me?
are triumphant and ebullient but they just seem to tire her out. So the brutal curtailing of wonderful song-writing choices is oh so deliberate; these communal joys are all ‘communal’, no ‘joy’.
And right back to loneliness -- the muse that’s never around. If this record proves anything, it’s that this alienation walks hand-in-hand with the notion that Mitski doesn’t belong because she doesn’t understand how humans work. The concept of romance is foreign but coveted (“…and I know no one will save me, I just need someone to kiss”
)., and as she’s off dreaming up modern fairytales marred by anxiety and awkward fumbling, the cracks begin to show. Is it not ironic that trawling YouTube comments on Mitski videos will yield plenty of strangers claiming how much they relate to her when the crux of her anxiety lies in how she can’t relate to anyone else? She’s missing that piece of understanding that connects her to others, and that’s why some of the songs on this record are dressed up all pretty in a veil of irony. Me and My Husband’s
jaunty indie pop pianos almost induce a grimace with how affected the rhythm feels. Remember My Name
plays out like a St. Vincent song except it’s much easier to tell that the serrated guitar riffing and tom-heavy drumming is all a façade, a false showing of confidence from a fringe-dweller who’s trying desperately to fit in. When Two Slow Dancers
sighs itself into existence, it feels like the only honest moment on the entire record. More specifically: it’s about being honest with herself, taking a step back to realise that whichever mask she’s wearing isn’t worth the compromise. She has these songs and that’s more than enough.
I read somewhere that all of Mitski’s songs are, in some manner, about music -- not unrequited love or apocalyptic coffee dates or aliens in human skin, but music. Although, to be a little bit presumptuous, I think there’s just an underlying sense of music being both a salve for Mitski’s worry, and a vessel with which she can be herself when she isn’t able to anywhere else. We only realise that she’s “deeply human” because these songs, despite their best efforts, serve to illustrate her humanity, breakdowns and all, with startling clarity.
I don’t have any personal anecdotes to sell you on Mitski, no defining spiritual live moments where everything fell into place and I was one with the universe. What I can do, however, is reaffirm her uniqueness. Across Be the Cowboy
, she is utterly herself: charismatic, slightly left-of-centre, arresting, and -- as always -- the odd one out in a crowded room. She may resign herself to the role of wallflower, but at least there’s music playing. At least she’s not completely alone.