Don’t be fooled by lyrics like “My God, I’m so lonely” or “I hear my heart breaking tonight.” Yes, Mitski is an artist defined by her ability — perhaps willingness — to explore her own vulnerabilities, and yes, she exudes said ability in full on her latest album, “Be the Cowboy.” That said, she’s anything but the helpless singer-songwriter who puts sulking to song. The album, to be released Friday, shows an artist simultaneously candid and confident, someone in control of demons she hasn’t quite conquered. Five albums in, Mitski continues to create some of the sharpest, most intense, no-fuss indie rock in recent memory.
The album kicks off with lead single “Geyser,” an explosive confession of desire that, with its steady instrumental build to distorted metal-esque guitars, sounds like an encore to her stellar previous record, “Puberty 2.” The bubbling synth and disco drumbeat of “Why Didn’t You Stop Me” immediately follow, which speaks to the new stylistic paths found throughout the record. On “Me and My Husband,” the vigorous horns and chirpy keyboards give off a nervous energy — the narrator’s eye could be twitching as she sings her spouse’s praises. “Washing Machine Heart,” meanwhile, clamors with stomps and claps as a synth bass saws out the beat, which paired with solemn strings adds potent urgency behind the simple hook, “Do mi ti, why not me?”
With 14 tracks clocking in at around 30 minutes, the album is a remarkably fast listen given the amount of detail packed into each song. Mitski is generally successful at wrapping big ideas into impactful vignettes, although there are some points that move so fast they feel inconsequential. Several tracks are under two minutes, leaving legitimately compelling ideas and melodies feeling not fully realized — but granted, there are worse gripes than wishing a record was longer.
Ultimately, the record’s longer tracks are consistently where Mitski shows her full skill as a storyteller. “A Pearl” offers an undaunted look at the intoxication of heartbreak and the self-sabotaging of a relationship (“I fell in love with a war/ And nobody told me that it ended”), while the disco-tastic “Nobody” will simultaneously have you dancing to the groove and freezing at the devastating one-liners (“Give me one good movie kiss and I’ll be all right”). But the best might be closer “Two Slow Dancers” (the longest track at four minutes), which transports the listener to a dusty school gym where two former lovers desperately try to rekindle what had gone out long ago. “We’ve both done it a hundred times before/ It’s funny how I still forgot,” Mitski sings as gentle electric piano fills the space. It’s the kind of ending that lingers rather than closes shut.
Robert Steiner can be reached at email@example.com.