Here is Kacey Musgraves' recipe for making her "galactic country" music: trip on acid, find love, drink Guinness with Sheryl Crow. The 29-year-old from Golden, Texas (pop. 398) has spent her songwriting career blowing past country music's social taboos -- she blatantly talks about smoking weed, queer love, and the patriarchy in her lyrics, with the press, and at her shows -- and with her latest record, Golden Hour, Musgraves breaks out from the finite boundaries of country music itself, shooting into the stratosphere of mainstream, genre-bending pop artists. "My goal for myself has always just been achieving total musical freedom," Musgraves told The FADER, and hypotheticals she's posed to interviewers encapsulate how she conceives of that goal: What if Sade or Imogen Heap made a country record?
The execution of her vision has resulted in the critical consensus that she's put out one of the best pop records of the year thus far, regardless of whether or not it's technically country music. Golden Hour is an homage to the things Musgraves loves -- her hometown, her family, her individuality, her drugs -- but especially to her husband and fellow musician, Ruston Kelly, whom she met at a writer's round at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. (They also composed "To June This Morning" together for Johnny Cash: Forever Words, wherein Cash's son tapped different artists to put some of the artist's lingering poems to music.) Which means that, yeah, the record displays some of the cheesier trappings of country-pop songs, but the standout songwriting and clever arrangements override the woozier love-drunk moments.
Golden Hour retains the soul of Musgraves' country roots, but shirks the twang for a quality more cosmic. Beyond the Sade/Imogen Heap influences, she's admitted to listening to a lot of Bee Gees while writing this album, and has invoked both Selena and Tame Impala, even while maintaining that nobody "loves traditional country music more than me." The lead singles complete the orbit: she directly credits the drippy synth line in "Butterflies" to the "melt-y ear candy" of Tame Impala, and "Space Cowboy," with its already booming timpanis getting an extra shot of reverb, mirrors the distance she's singing about putting between her and an ex ("You can have your space, cowboy").