Mitski’s ‘Be The Cowboy’ Is Pitchfork’s #1 Album of 2018… And She’s on All the Other Lists Too!
Pitchfork #1 in 50 Best Albums of 2018
Be The Cowboy
At high noon, in the Wild West of our collective imagination, America began to romanticize the wrong kind of power. The cowboy strolled in—spraying bullets down Main Street, burning saloons to cinders—and his reckless bravado became something to be admired, not scorned. But in a year likewise full of ugly, macho confrontations shot from the hip, Mitski Miyawaki reclaimed the gunslinger’s confidence for herself. Channeling brash new characters on her fifth album, she embraced the opposite of her experiences, and the gambit paid off: This is Mitski’s most triumphant record to date, a refining of her many strengths, splashed across the largest canvas her arms can carry.
Mitski’s familiar charms—scrappy guitars, cutting observations, nervy synths—return as conduits for deeper intimacies and grand declarations. Be the Cowboy finds her ready for the arena, with nimble, airtight songs full of broad pop choruses and big, irrepressible emotions presented as candidly as dry-cleaning receipts. Even in her 10-gallon hat, she fixes her gaze on universal torments: loneliness, devotion, wistfulness, defiance. With “Nobody,” her disco-piano romp of a single, Mitski turns the song’s title into the biggest sing-along of her career, those three syllables locking in all the lint of isolation: the despair, the self-loathing, the cruel and ever-dwindling hope for pardon. In “A Pearl,” she wails and pounds the crumbling walls of a toxic relationship, papering over the pain with power-ballad feedback, her lithe vocals carrying a wisp of forsaken echo.
Mitski sets her credo on “Geyser,” Cowboy’s stunning opener. She weaponizes passionate, tenacious intensity—something women can be shamed for, particularly in non-Western cultures—and celebrates herself for it. In a Broadway belt, she cries of her desire, “Feel it bubbling from below/Hear it call, hear it call,” as wind-whipped guitars crest below. In the past, Mitski has never shown an interest in playing a role, whether that of the submissive Asian-American stereotype or the rebuker of such fetishism. Adopting hotshot narrators on Cowboy becomes even more significant in this context; in doing so, she’s said, she found the inverse of her apologetic experiences as a Japanese-American woman, and the empowerment ripples outward. Her character work is also a rebellion against the “confessional” pejorative foisted onto so many female singer-songwriters, the idea that women must be helplessly spilling these disclosures instead of savvily employing them. All of this makes her defiance even more liberating to hear. It’s good to have Mitski firing back for all of us; it’s even better to hear this true original growing into her limitless future. –Stacey Anderson
Consequence of Sound’s #1 in Top 50 Albums of 2018
Our staff’s absolute favorite records from a wild and unpredictable year of music
Be The Cowboy
Origin: New York City, New York
The Gist: With all the mishegas defining 2018, it’s somewhat telling that an album of intimate connections broke through to the top. Even when the world is helplessly burning, we still have to face ourselves and our relationships. Though the songs don’t exactly delve into gooey optimism as they explore these intense inter- and intra-personal sentiments, the characters in Mitski’s Be the Cowboy do so with an acute self-awareness that reminds us it’s okay to be a little broken. Such heartrending catharsis presented with peerlessly compelling compositions and keen lyricism sublimates the album beyond “indie” and into fine art.
Why It Rules: We already knew Mitski was a master songwriter, but the synchronous displays of restraint and lushness on Be the Cowboy are doubly extraordinary. Only two songs hit the three-minute mark, yet these concise scenes are so elegantly penned that they accommodate a boundless depth. Stunning orchestrations on “Geyser” and “Pink in the Night” are as visceral as lines like “Give me one good movie kiss/ And I’ll be alright” (“Nobody”) or “You say hello, and I lose” (“Lonesome Love”). There’s gut-punching, honest beauty anywhere you look. Mitski may be writing about the “self-abasement of desire,” as she says in the liner notes, but her wit and rich arrangements allow us to still find grace in the gloom. –Ben Kaye
Vulture’s #1 in The 15 Best Albums of 2018
Featuring major comebacks, existential rap, sci-fi song cycles, and more.
It seems impossible for Mitski songs to be both mannered and explosive, but the perfect two-minute wonders that populate her stunning fifth album Be the Cowboy manage to mine the full depth of human despair and disappointment in little more than a few chilly, economic turns of phrase. Cowboy observes relationships in disarray in an attempt to understand the reasons people stay in uncomfortable situations when it seems like smart business to leave; Mitski grew up bouncing around a dozen different countries, and it’s tempting to see the stoic housewives and long-suffering girlfriends on display here as a withering indictment of the concept of emotional stasis.
The Line of Best Fit’s #1 in Best Albums of 2018
We rank the fifty most outstanding records of the year.
Be The Cowboy
Be the cowboy you wish to see in the world”. You may not see it emblazoned on a plane come election time, but it is the slogan that inspired Mitski’s fifth and most rewarding record yet.