I admit that right now I’m going into unfamiliar territory with this artist, and that is Japanese-American singer-songwriter Mitski Miyawaki (or simply just Mitski). Now before going into her prior albums, I did know her voice from somewhere before, and it’s a common reference point for many things with Surreal Resolution: Adult Swim.
Yes, she was on “Wait,” the song from Ryan Hemsworth (and also featuring Keaton Henson) that was on the 2016 Adult Swim Singles Program. I remember liking that track, as it was on my Honorable Mentions of favorite 2016 AS singles. Before I dug into her 5th studio album (2nd on the indie label Dead Oceans), I decided to dig into her catalog. Her albums are very short and concise, mostly clocking in 30+ minutes or less, and I do admire her work on instrumentation along with her producer Patrick Hyland. They always manage to have some different tinges to them, like how her 4th album “Puberty 2” has some dream pop/smooth R&B vibes, and the previous one, “Bury Me At Makeout Creek,” has some punk-rock vibes to it. Also, her usage of piano, guitar, bass, and especially her voice range in varied ways, as she goes from soft and whispery to booming within the next second. That last line is proof on the first track on this album, “Geyser.”
Now with Be The Cowboy, she got the inspiration for the title from an artist she knew at college that had a cowboy-like swagger to him. He just does his thing, and she admired him for that and wants to be that, hence BE THE COWBOY!!
There’s also the content in here dealing with subjects like estrangement, heartache, your inner self and feelings, past relationships, present relationships, etc. I will say if you’re looking for something that’s more meaty in these songs, there isn’t much. Again, the majority of the songs here are down to 1-2 minutes. The longest track on here clocks out at 3 minutes, 59 seconds (or just 4 minutes), and that’s the closer/previously released single “Two Slow Dancers.”
“A Pearl” has an interesting meaning to the song as it’s about being a toxic relationship, either with someone or yourself, for so long that once you’re out of it, you want to go back to that, taking a liking to it like a shiny pearl. “Remember My Name” deals with existentialism(!!), wanting to be remembered and forever immortalized, but it’s wanting something you might never get and how thinking about that could get you depressed. “Nobody” deals a lot with estrangement and being alone, and it’s done well in this disco beat production with some bass delivered by Evan Marien.
“Washing Machine Heart” has a stirring motif on exploring yourself in a manic nature as you’re not this type of person all the time, but you try to be someone within your limits, although it wouldn’t be that natural or mentally healthy. Both “Me and My Husband” and “Come into the Water” explore the concept of what marriage becomes for people, as further into it, you’re not that much in love anymore, but it doesn’t mean I’m done with you. It’s more like sticking together.
As I mentioned before, “Two Slow Dancers” is the closing track of the album, and the subject of the song is two past lovers reunited in the school gym, reliving it in a dance and knowing after that, it’s back to their regular lives. The thing about it is that it isn’t portrayed as being romantic in that sense, but it’s more like “Hey, remember those good times we had back in the day?” and reminiscing on it: a fitting way to end the album as a whole.
Much like Oneohtrix Point Never’s Age of, this took a lot of listens for me to get, and I like some of the behind the scenes detail of each song which made me enjoy the album even more. Everything about the subject matter, the instrumentation, Mitski’s vocals and the album never overstays its welcome (only being 32 minutes in length), and while some of the songs are short, they have some punch to them.
FINAL VERDICT: Buy It. Be the Cowboy and take a look into Mitski’s music.
Be The Cowboy is available on CD, LP, Digital Download and Streaming services from Dead Oceans.