Mitski’s new album, Be the Cowboy, is the white flowers that freckle up on scorched earth. It is beauty and anger and disappointment and resilience. It is a tremor that signals life in a wounded form. It is a mural on a cinder block wall that has been marred by hurled acid. It is relief and anguish. It is fleeting, contradictory thoughts formed into slippery bundles. It is pop music as catharsis and simultaneously as rejection of the notion that pop music can be catharsis. It is sleek and gnarled, enticing and elusive. It is an extension of the magnificent Puberty 2 and so apart from its celebrated predecessor that it can seem like the product of a different human altogether. At this point, it’s not surprise that Mitski has made a great album, but there it is. What else can be said? Mitski has made a great album.
Maybe more can be offered. There’s an obligation, I suppose, to highlight certain songs on the album, the ones that are emblematic of Mitski’s range on Be the Cowboy. There’s the plush rolling thunder of “Geyser” or the shimmering open wound of “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” (“I know that I ended it, but/ Why won’t you chase after me/ You know me better than I do/ So why didn’t you stop me?”), but now I’m just reacting to the track list in order. Maybe that’s the right way to do it. Be the Cowboy prompts that emotional immediacy. But I should be less predictable, right? Ricocheting around the album to note the vivid weirdness of “Washing Machine Heart” or the languid roller disco of “Nobody” (“And I know no one will save me/ I’m just asking for a kiss/ Give me one good movie kiss/ And I’ll be alright”) or the airy countrified lilt of “Lonesome Love.” Surely that’s what I should do.
Maybe I’m arranging words in this fashion because Mitski’s Be the Cowboy is one of those albums that exposes the futility of writing about music, the dancing-about-architecture of it all. I can name the sly ways Mitski discombobulates (the Smiths-like opening of “Blue Light,” the pulsating “Remember My Name”), but that’s only wanly describing fragments because the whole is impervious to rudimentary reduction. I can type and type and type. Or I can go back to the beginning and simply listen again.