Miyawaki, who records under her first name, rose to prominence with her third album, 2014's Bury Me at Makeout Creek, a gnarled and heavily distorted statement of purpose that showcased her beautiful alto vocals. With its lead single "Your Best American Girl," an indie rock headbanger for the streaming era, 2016's follow-up Puberty 2 combined raw angst with raw power, flipping a switch that super-charged her portraits of alienation with electrifying guitar heroics. Working with frequent collaborator Patrick Hyland, who also produced Makeout Creek, she crafted an occasionally droll, often lacerating study in emo contrasts. She was drawing you in, building a mythology, and constructing a persona. Was it sustainable?
Arriving two years later, Be the Cowboy answers that question by confirming that Mitski is in it for the long haul. Tellingly, these are songs about conserving emotional resources: the depletion of love, the abundance of loneliness, and the steady drip of dispair. In a recent profile on Pitchfork, she revealed the "big secret" that many of the people directly addressed in her most vulnerable songs -- the jilted lovers, the mysterious confidants, the loyal protectors -- are stand-ins for her relationship to her own artistic work. "A lot of the ‘yous’ in my songs are abstract ideas about music," she said, likely disappointing her more ego-centric enemies. (Drake would never.)
That philosophical bent becomes even more apparent when you watch the carefully conceptualized, impeccably executed videos she's filmed for her recent songs. The clip for Be the Cowboy's opening track "Geyser" begins with her singing softly to the camera on the shoreline, lulling the viewer into a sense of familiarity before she takes off running, crawls on all fours, and claws at the mud. It's shot in a single take to heighten the song's immediacy. "Nobody," with its disco-tinged rhythms and lines about global warming, gets an arch treatment. Arms dangle from walls, diaries hide within diaries, and the house is revealed to be a movie set at the end. She wants you to see the strings.