Mitski, “Be the Cowboy” (Dead Oceans)
Indie rock was just a detour for Mitski. On her fifth album, she embraces the possibilities of full-scale pop — not to formularize her emotions, but to give them an even larger canvas. It is exactly the right choice.
Since releasing her 2014 album, “Bury Me at Makeout Creek,” Mitski has built a following the old-fashioned way: touring constantly and wielding her big hot-pink bass guitar, singing about torturously ambivalent relationships and her own evolving identity — as a woman growing up and finding her own path, as an ambitious artist and, in songs like her online hit “Your Best American Girl” from her 2016 album, “Puberty 2,” as a Japanese-American. Glancing back at 1990s songwriters like Liz Phair, her songs often surged with distorted guitar: a token of hands-on effort and untamed sound, of here-and-now sincerity.
Yet Mitski was never a primitivist or indie-rock die-hard. The two albums she released before “Makeout Creek” feature piano-centered chamber pop, with the scrupulously graceful, long-lined melodies and asymmetrical structures that she would also bring to her rock songs.
“Be the Cowboy,” produced by Patrick Hyland and largely played by Hyland and Mitski, brings on the synthesizers and programmed drums, but it also provides close-ups of Mitski’s voice, setting aside the previous albums’ guitar noise. The trappings have changed, but not the intimacy.
“My God, I’m so lonely,” Mitski sings in “Nobody,” and soon she realizes, “I know no one will save me/I just need someone to kiss.” But it is the album’s most insistently catchy song.
Mitski’s songs about love are a tangle of mixed messages in precise, idiosyncratic packages. In “Lonesome Love,” which hints at country, she girds herself to “win” by putting on perfect makeup to dump someone, only to end up in a taxi the next morning wondering, “Why am I lonely for lonesome love?”
Throughout the album, love can be a physical need, a compulsion, a comfort, a bittersweet memory and a bulwark against mortality. Mitski begins “Me and My Husband,” a fantasy of domestic solidarity, observing, “I steal a few breaths from the world for a minute/And then I’ll be nothing forever.” And as the album ends, with the electric-piano ballad “Two Slow Dancers,” she imagines an elderly couple on a dance floor, reflecting on lost youth, with the last chord unresolved.
On this album, even more than she has before, Mitski makes the music her partner.
JON PARELES, New York Times
Cole Swindell, “All of It” (Warner Nashville)
This Georgia native is a singer-songwriter in the Garth Brooks mold, celebrating regular life with thrilling results. Swindell’s new album is packed with well-crafted future singalongs like “Reason to Drink.” He sweetly pays tribute to “The Ones Who Got Me Here” with a poignant ballad. He lists things that unify on the bluesy “Both Sides of the Mississippi” — “Beer is beer, whiskey’s whiskey; out in the country, up in the city, Strait is the king and the girls are pretty.”
But Swindell’s lament “Dad’s Old Number,” about calling his late father’s phone number hoping for him to pick up, is a classic in the making. “Sometimes I forget that these 10 digits ain’t my lifeline anymore,” he sings with a lonesome twang that will have you reaching for the tissues or — if you’re lucky — the phone.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
• Amos Lee, “My New Moon”
• Meghan Trainor, “Treat Myself”
• Troye Sivan, “Bloom”
• Iron and Wine, “Weed Garden”