Mitski’s indie rock album Be the Cowboy is a beautiful ode to isolation.
You’re the one I want/ And I’ve turned down every hand that has beckoned me
As a self-described Geyser, Mitski’s emotional state and the music build to an agonised refrain.
Why Didn’t You Stop Me?
I know that I ended it/ But why won’t you chase after me?
Why Didn’t You Stop Me? captures the conflicting emotions that arise during a break-up. As life moves on, the image of Mitski’s former lover begins to fade.
I’ll take anything you wanna give me, baby
Meeting her ex for coffee, Mitski admits that she has not “told anyone”. Implying that she has not said ‘I love you’ since the break-up, Mitski pleads with this old flame – if only internally – and wonders whether they have already moved on.
Sorry I don’t want your touch/ It’s not that I don’t want you/ It’s just that I fell in love with a war/ And nobody told me it ended
Mitski struggles with self-sabotage, saying:
There’s a hole that you fill
The relationship serves a purpose, but Mitski can’t let go of the things the pair “don’t talk about”.
Walk up in my high heels all high and mighty/ And you say hello, and I lose
Mitski imagines having the upper-hand when she sees her ex. The actual event is nowhere near as satisfying, leaving Mitski to question why she pines after a “lonesome love” that leaves her paying for a taxi home alone.
Remember My Name
Cause I need somebody to remember my name/ After all that I can do for them is done
Mitski wants to be known for more than her capabilities, as the charm of fame seems to have worn off:
Just how many stars will I need to hang around me/ To finally call it heaven
Clearly, there is a difference between being known, and being known.
Me and My Husband
I am the idiot with the painted face in the corner taking up space/ But when he walks in I am loved
Mitski clings to the concept of a stable husband as she pictures her life decaying around her. As Mitski sings:
So I bet all I have on that/ Furrowed brow
The comfort of having someone to spend your life with battles against the notion of who that person actually is. The statement “we’re doing better” suggests the protective sheen of the relationship is a mere façade.
Come into the Water
I didn’t know I had a dream/I didn’t know until I saw you
Waiting for her partner to prove their devotion, the “water” symbolises the expanse of risk involved when committing to a relationship.
And I know no one will save me/ I’m just asking for a kiss
Opening a window just to hear other people, Mitski reaches a new level of solitude. Nobody appears to be an embrace of loneliness. Repeating the word, this feeling is turned into something we can all relate to. As Mitski sings:
I don’t want your pity/ I just want somebody near me
After all, to be lonely and admit this, isn’t a bad thing.
Pink in the Night
I hear my heart breaking tonight/ Do you hear it too?/ It’s like a summer shower
So in love that to think of her lover is to glow pink, Mitski’s depth of feeling is as intense as a torrential downpour.
A Horse Named Cold Air
I thought I’d travelled a long way/ But I had circled the same old sin
The notion of outgrowing your prime is devastatingly personified here in the image of an aging racehorse.
Washing Machine Heart
I’m not wearing my usual lipstick/I thought maybe we would kiss tonight
Mitski instructs her lover to toss their dirty shoes into her Washing Machine Heart. Willing to accept less than she deserves, Mitski continues:
Baby though I close my eyes/ I know who you think I am
Whether her partner is thinking of someone else, or has a different version of Mitski in mind, something isn’t quite right.
Somebody kiss me/ I’m going crazy
The speaker appears to be trapped with only a Blue Light for comfort, which glows like a lighthouse in the distance.
Two Slow Dancers
It would be a hundred times easier/ If we were young again
Two Slow Dancers offers a reflection on what will soon become the past. As the “last ones out”, Mitski conjures an image of a slow-dancing couple, leaving us with a hopeful – if melancholic – close to the album. One that suggests a soulmate can be found, at least in an imagined future.
Mitski. Be the Cowboy. Dead Oceans (2018).