Arts & Culture

Mitski’s latest album offers listeners emotional complexity

“Be the Cowboy” showcases maturity, lyricism from indie rock singer-songwriter

By
Staff Writer
Monday, October 22, 2018

Mitski, the New York City based singer-songwriter, performed at the House of Blues in Boston October 20 as part of her U.S. tour. Her fifth studio album “Be The Cowboy” features three singles.

Mitski’s latest album “Be the Cowboy” distills complex emotions; in her clear voice, the artist captures love and loneliness. The singer-songwriter performed at House of Blues Boston on Oct. 20 as part of her U.S. tour.

The album opens with a burst of emotion. “Geyser” builds itself up, culminating explosively and passionately both lyrically and instrumentally: “I will be the one you need, the way I can’t be without you,” Mitski sings.

Mitski addresses relationships from many angles. She explores the eruptive passion of love and reflects on its difficulties. “You’re growing tired of me … sorry I don’t want your touch, it’s not that I don’t want you” she sings in “A Pearl.” She does not simplify or romanticize relationships, instead opting to portray them as multidimensional.

She also relates a deep desire for purpose. In “Remember My Name,” she conveys her need for recognition and legacy. “I want someone to remember me. I need something bigger than the sky, hold it in my arms and know it’s mine.” In this song, Mitski explores the tensions of ambition and the desire to leave an impact on others and the world.

The upbeat “Nobody,” which was released as a single before the rest of the album, sounds deceptively happy. Though the music is fast-paced and carefree, she intones “My God, I’m so lonely, so I open the window, to hear sounds of people.” This song exemplifies the layered irony in Mitski’s portrayal of emotions, where little is as it seems. 

The album slows as it concludes. In “Pink in the Night,” Mitski takes us back to a raw depiction of love. She captures a certain juvenile purity, conveying genuine yearning. “I know I’ve kissed you before, but I didn’t do it right. Can I try again, try again, try again,” she sings. There is a certain innocence to this desperation, the vulnerability and naivete that accompanies love. At the end of the song, she repeats: “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

The album ends with the torturously nostalgic “Two Slow Dancers.” Instrumentally, this piece is simple; it begins with only a piano, and there is a slow orchestral buildup. It tells a story of love, loss and growing old. “Doesn’t it smell like a school gymnasium in here?” she sings, invoking nostalgic images of adolescence. But this song’s tragedy lies precisely in the fact that we must grow up: “It would be a hundred times easier, if we were young again. But as it is, and it is.” Aging is a fact of life which we are helpless to change, something that just “is.” The song illustrates the inevitability of change, and evokes a longing for the past.

The clarity of “Be the Cowboy”is a kind of honesty; this is the closest look at Mitski listeners have been afforded so far. It is explosive passion and deep melancholy all at once. In her storytelling, she bares her heart, calling out to us: “remember my name.”