The last time listeners heard from Kacey Musgraves she had just married her husband and released the critically acclaimed galactic country album, Golden Hour. Fast forward a few years later and newly divorced, Musgraves has released star-crossed. An album whose theme is one of a “modern tragedy”. Co-produced and written with the same Golden Hour team of Ian Fitchuck and Daniel Tashian, star-crossed is a well crafted album of modern country that adds soul and R+B to the mix.
A flamenco style acoustic guitar is heard on the title track, one that describes a relationship like listening to an audio play where Musgraves “moved out of the home we made and gave you back your name”. Flashbacks abound on songs like “Good Wife” that rewinds the relationship story and adds a dose of soul in the chorus. “Camera Roll” sees Musgraves looking back at old photos but not wanting to delete them. A theme of wishing things were different pops up several times including on the acoustic lead “Angel” but on tracks like “Justified”, Musgraves turns the tables that she acted the way she did based on the circumstances.
star-crossed is a finely tuned album for dopamine pop hits but there is a little something in each track that makes it standout. It’s only a handful of songs, like third single “Simple Times” that sound like they were tailor written to be a radio hit which ends up sounding like many other artists. It’s on tracks like the slinky R+B of “Breadwinner” and the jazz flute solo of “There Is A Light” that really sets Musgraves apart. The album closes with the Spanish language classic, “Gracias a la Vida” where the team adds scratchy record effects to make it sound like it was released in the 1960s. While it will be hard to top the success of Golden Hour, on star-crossed Kacey Musgraves continues to experiment while not forgetting her pop country roots.
5. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour: Arguably the biggest country crossover into the indie rock world of 2018. Musgraves’ fourth major album release was as slick as they come but hard not to appreciate the quality of the songs. “Lonely Weekend”, “Space Cowboy” and album standout “High Horse” are the touchstones. But those are accompanied by opener “Slow Burn” and “Velvet Elvis”. While many of these songs could easily be featured in almost every commercial on TV, it doesn’t take away from the fact that virtually every one is a winner.
4. Mitski – Be The Cowboy : The first vocal on Mitski’s fifth album claims “you’re my number 1” which is fitting as this is topping album polls across the world. Clocking in at just over 33 minutes with most songs around the two-minute mark, it is easy to leave this one on repeat for a few hours. First single “Nobody” provides the longing that is at the heart of this album. The hard rocking “Remember My Name” is followed by the defiant “Me and My Husband”. There is a reason people keep talking about this album, the quick snapshots of music cut across numerous styles but most of all, it does them expertly.
3. Tracyanne & Danny – Tracyanne & Danny : Quietly one of the most welcome returns to music was from Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell. Her voice is like a warm fire on a cold winter night. Here she appears with Danny Coughlan and together they create one of the best runs of music in 2018 from first track “Home & Dry” to infectious single “Alabama”. Second half highlight belongs to Coughlan with his 50s style “Anybody Else”. Overshadowed by bigger releases, this Merge Records release is an easy album to fall in love with.
2. Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel: In the disposable world of streaming and downloads, it’s rare that an album is a grower but Tell Me How You Really Feel did just that. Hard to get into at first, it feels disjointed and a bit of a downer album about touring but repeated listens prove that is not true. “City Looks Pretty” and “Nameless, Faceless” are dynamite indie rock songs. “Need A Little Time” features a pretty melody in the chorus and it’s all closed down with the melancholic uplift of “Sunday Roast”. Barnett tore the Winnipeg Folk Fest down on the Friday night this past summer. Too hard rocking for a lot of the crowd but was a glorious racket for the rest of us.
1. Beach House – 7: When reviewing the latest Beach House on the Celebration Rock Podcast, critic Steve Hyden talked about how 7 does exactly what he wants from a BH album. This is pretty much bang on. “Pay No Mind”, “Lemon Glow and “Dive” standout and the rest of the album does a very good job of being atmospheric and ethereal. “Lose Yourself” is beautiful as is “Woo” but with an 80s synth feel. 7 glides along on its rails and is happy to take the listener to the next station for its duration.
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.