Mitski Miyawaki was born in Japan to an American father and Japanese mother. She studied at Purchase College’s Conservatory of Music, during which she self-released her first two albums, and served a short stint as a vocalist in a prog-metal band. She’s probably too creative and eccentric for mainstream success but she’s been steadily been building a profile; Iggy Pop has cited her as “probably the most advanced American songwriter that I know”, while Be The Cowboy cracked the top ten on many year end lists.
Be The Cowboy is Mitski’s fifth studio album. Her first two albums were genteel, based around her piano. They were followed by two albums of noisy guitar. Be The Cowboy captures the sweet spot between the two approaches; sometimes it features outbursts of noisy guitar, like on ‘A Pearl’.
But sometimes Mitski opts for a pop-oriented approach; the chunky guitars of ‘Why Didn’t You Stop Me’ are juxtaposed against a peppy synth line. ‘Me and My Husband’ is weirdly futuristic pop-soul with piano, synths, and horns all competing for attention.
The 14 songs of Be The Cowboy run just over half an hour, with individual songs often clocking in under two minutes. Three or four minute songs are usually the building blocks of pop albums, so these short pieces are refreshing. The overall effect is like that of a movie, especially when there are clear themes running through these songs.
Mitski has been protective of her personal life, so it’s difficult to tell what’s fiction and what’s autobiographical here, but there are themes of isolation and repression within a relationship on Be The Cowboy The album’s second single song, ‘Nobody’, opens with the lyrics “My God, I’m so lonely/So I open the window/To hear sounds of people”.
Be The Cowboy is a phenomenally strong album, balancing creative textures and themes with an unerring pop sense that makes it an easy record to access. It’s my favourite album of 2018 that I’ve covered to date, and a contender for the top ten of the decade.