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Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour Review
“I’m the kind of person who starts getting kinda nervous / When I’m having the time of my life,” Kacey Musgraves admits on “Happy & Sad,” a weighty musing on love-so-good-it-can’t-last tucked into the back-half of her thrilling new LP Golden Hour. For those who’ve followed the Texas spitfire since her Grammy-winning debut, it’s a remarkable lyrical pivot; Musgraves’ finest work has always been the result of a cool remove and a side-eyed look at her surroundings—at least, until now.
Across Golden Hour’s 13 tracks, Musgraves dissects the here and now of her emotions with a directness that’s startling. The reverb-lined vocals of “Butterflies” glow with the rush of new love while the dreamy acoustic pop number “Lonely Weekend” ponders the plight of an introvert consumed by FOMO. On the stream-of-consciousness-style “Mother,” which Musgraves wrote while tripping on LSD, she’s overcome with longing. “I’m just sitting here thinking about the time that’s slipping, and missing my mother,” she sings.
Relationship songs are mostly new fare for the recently married 29-year-old. For a listener accustomed to the quick wit and laser focus of her two previous releases (2013’s Same Trailer, Different Park and 2015’s Pageant Material), the ideas here can be frustratingly general, like the strummy “Love Is a Wild Thing,” which realizes that love is an impossible to contain force or the title track which equates her partner to a sunset. “You’ve set my world on fire,” she croons, “and I know, I know everything’s gonna be alright.” What works better is her own ambiguous reaction to finding love—woefully familiar to anyone who has found the same.
Sonically, she also canvasses new territory. The album standout “High Horse” tries disco on for size, begging to take over the nearest roller rink sound system as it does. “Oh, What a World” toys with psychedelia as well as a Daft Punk-esque vocoder. “Golden Hour” echoes lush, 1970s folk-rock. The pop-piano stunner “Rainbow”—a live-show favorite for years which Musgraves wrote as a letter to LGBTQ youth—could sit with the greats of yesteryear.
Musgraves produced her first two albums with Music City maestros Luke Laird (Thomas Rhett, Brett Eldredge) and Shane McAnally (Kelly Clarkson, Sam Hunt) but here she teams up with Nashville indie scenesters Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk. Together they chased, she’s said, a hypothetical notion: “What would it sound like if Imogen Heap made a country record?” Their handling of her Loretta Lynn-reminiscent vocal is particularly intoxicating. On songs like “Slow Burn” and “Space Cowboy,” the arrangements are folded beneath her woozy delivery, and on “Velvet Elvis” her voice and the music move together as one.
Fans and critics have spent recent years debating the boundaries of the country music genre. What is “real country,” “pop country,” and “alt-country”? And how do these sub-genres relate to the mainstream sound? Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, and Jason Isbell have been deemed the new bastions of authenticity by genre purists, while artists like Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett each had to answer to the cries of “is it country enough?” as they earned their first hits. (That Stapleton, long one of Nashville’s premier songsmiths, has written for the likes of Rhett—not to mention Luke Bryan, another artist maligned for his pop sheen—is often forgotten in the argument.)
Musgraves first clawed her way into the critical darlings’ circle with a knowing, respectful reinterpretation of country and western musical traditions. Often positioned as an alternative to Taylor Swift, who was dominating the pop and country airwaves at the time, she became the latest ingénue tasked with saving country music. But—fitting for the irony-loving scribe—it’s here on Golden Hour, where she shirks those confines, that she joins the list of Music City greats and, ultimately, pays timeless tribute to the genre itself.