“Me and my husband/we are doing better/it’s always been just him and me together”. Mitski’s fifth album, Be the Cowboy, is the Japanese/American’s second for Dead Oceans is a dynamic effort. The lyric comes from “Me and My Husband” which like many tracks presents a mature take on love and approaches the topic from one of many different angles. 14 songs appear over 33 concise minutes with songs working like quick snapshots into a particular emotion.
Starting with just an electronic guitar, “A Pearl” ends up euphoric when the horns swell a third of the way through. Mitski’s vocals are a treat on the swooning country track “Lonesome Love” before the guitar crunch of “Remember My Name” appears. Second single “Nobody” has a 70s disco feel while singing of the loneliness that envelopes a person when on the road whereas “Pink In The Night” is all atmosphere about the confusion of being in love or at least infatuated with someone. Like others we’ve listened to this year, Mitski varies the music style throughout but the short bursts of songs never outstay their welcome.
When starting the review for the latest album from New York band Interpol, I was surprised that it was their sixth. Produced by Dave Friedmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, etc), the band will always be stuck on their fourth album in my mind. Turn On the Bright Lights released in 2002 is a perfect distillation of their sound with second album Antics an excellent follow-up. Three more albums followed with varying degrees of success.
Two dense rock songs start the disc off including first single “The Rover”. Where it starts to feel like an Interpol record is “Stay In Touch” where the guitars lock in to a familiar band sound and Sam Fogarino’s drum work on the snare/hi hat really drives the song home. The low rumble of “Mountain Child” is next followed by “Nysmaw” where Daniel Kessler’s and Paul Bank’s guitars perfectly lock-in with Fogarino. A shimmering guitar starts off third single “Number 10” that feels airlifted right of the debut before the band crashes in. Last track “It Probably Matters” starts with the lyric “I tried to be a faithful man…” with Paul Banks doing his best Kings of Leon vocal impression.
The band works best when there is air in the songs to help expand the flames but at times that gets suffocated by dense rawk songs (both of the first tracks have been released as singles). As noted elsewhere, Interpol is one of the few bands from the ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’ era that has turned into a legacy act. This has the knock-on effect of needing those rawk tracks for their live show to get the early evening crowd revved up in between the classics. Interpol are in that rarified position of having perfected their sound on the first album and are stuck having to live up to that. On Marauder they do a good job of adding some different touches to their sound and proving there is still life left in those well-tailored black suits.
In the fall of 1964, folk rock duo Simon & Garfunkel released their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3AM. Originally named Tom and Jerry, the Queens NY duo had scored a minor hit in the New York area several years before with “Hey School Girl” before they drifted apart. With the New York folk scene in full swing, the duo regrouped in the early 60s to start performing together again.
Though they would go on to great success, the debut is patchy at best. It is mix of folk standards (“Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream”/ “The Times They Are A-changin’”), gospel music (“Go Tell It On The Mountain”), and several original compositions written by Simon. The harmonies on the album are quite good but the duo bring little grit or soul to the traditional songs and instead come across as a squeaky-clean version of many of their peers.
Of the originals, “Bleecker Street” is a nice track about Greenwich Village. “He Was My Brother” is a good if earnest eulogy written by Simon about his friend Andrew Goodman who was killed in Mississippi at the hands of the KKK along with Michael Schwerner and James Chaney. The most famous song here is the original version of “Sounds of Silence”. Here the track appears backed by just an acoustic guitar, unadorned with the instrumentation later added by producer Tom Wilson that turned it into a folk-rock classic. Soon after the release, Simon moved to London but was later called back to NY by Garfunkel when the remixed version of “The Sounds of Silence” became a #1 smash hit. Unfortunately, there is little here that is essential to the Simon and Garfunkel story. The best thing is probably the album cover. Seen as old fashioned by some at the time, viewed through the Mad Men 60s prism, it is a classic shot of upstart young New Yorkers busking in the underground.
A year after their debut Please came out, Pet Shop Boys released a synth pop masterpiece with Actually. Retaining a similar album cover to their debut, this time around Neil Tennant is featured yawning on the but with what is contained inside, that reaction could not be further than from the truth. Side one is flawless. The spikey, dance track “One More Chance” opens up the album before second single “What Have I Done to Deserve This” comes in. Featuring 60s star Dusty Springfield, this #2 on both sides of the Atlantic became a radio staple throughout the mid-80s and fit in very well with other duets at the time from George Michael/Aretha Franklin, Michael Mcdonald/Patti Labelle, and the Dirty Dancing tracks.
The heart of the record is in the next three tracks – the retail critique of “Shopping”, the dour yet sophisticated “Rent” and upbeat “Hit Music”. On side two, the UK #1 “It’s A Sin” symphony effects underlay lyrics that rail against the church claiming that everything the band does is a sin. With a Nesfaratu-like video guaranteeing plays every Halloween, “Heart” was the duo’s last UK #1. Album closer “King’s Cross” is PSB’s first great ballad, a classy affair that lays the ground work down for “Being Boring” a few years later. Even with the success of “West End Girls” two years earlier, it took Actually to firmly push Pet Shop Boys into being a true pop hit contender rather than a mere curiosity or one hit wonder.
The further listening disc presents numerous remixes and B-sides. Whereas the original is more meandering, the “One More Chance (Seven Inch Mix)” is more direct with a driving beat. The Shep Pettibone remix of “Heart” adds shimmering synths and electronic steel drums. It’s a full two minutes before “It’s a Sin (Disco Mix)” becomes familiar to listeners and the extended version of “What Have I Done…” is a keeper. “Always on My Mind” is presented here twice but the original single version released during this time period is missed and could easily have been added. Unlike the extras presented on Please that reworked many tracks to great effect and added B-sides that were almost as good as the A-sides, somehow the extras here seem less essential and less fun.
Actually – 9/10
Further Listening – 7/10
Around the time of 2015’s Pageant Material, Texan Kacey Musgraves started to appear in places such as Pitchfork.com and Uncut magazine along with other newer country stars Margo Price and Sturgill Simpson. Musgraves followed that album up with a very well received Christmas album in 2016 before starting work on Golden Hour in 2017. Many songs from Golden Hour are sparked by new found love when she started dating then married Ruston Kelly, specifically first single “Butterflies”.
This is a slick sounding album ready made for radio and online playlists. “Slow Burn” shows off Musgraves pleasing vocals while she sings of trying to find her place in the world – “I know a few things but still got a lot to learn”. The catchy “Lonely Weekend” could soundtrack virtually any number of TV commercials whereas the spare “Mother” barely lasts a minute. Touches of Daft Punk style electronica appear in “Oh What A World” and “Love Is A Wild Thing” features celestial sounds towards the end.
Reserving some of the best tracks for the second half – single “Space Cowboy” appears before the pop of “Velvet Elvis”, the catchy “Wonder Woman” and disco lite “High Horse”. Touching on many different styles, most tracks are still rooted in country pop. Musgraves’ vocals will not blow you over but her experimentations, both musically and with LSD, make for a varied and memorable 45 minutes.