IDLES | Joy as an Act of Resistance | Partisan Records

IDLES
Joy as an Act of Resistance

Partisan Records
Street: 08.31
IDLES = Metz + Protomartyr + Future of the Left

Last year, Bristol-born quintet IDLES kicked in the front door of the underground punk scene with their debut album, BRUTALISM. The record’s furious energy and politically charged lyrics made for an irresistible listen that felt ready to take on the current socio-political era with gritted teeth and clenched fists. A little more than a year after the release of BRUTALISM, IDLES return with the same energy, wit and charisma of their debut with a new emphasis on vulnerability, sincerity, joy and togetherness.

Joy as an Act of Resistance feels exactly like its title would lead you to believe. Lyrically, the album confronts the prevalent issues of toxic masculinity, immigration, nationalism and social and economic inequality, all the while being an album that will leave you tired from dancing and sincerely smiling from the unity and vulnerability preached throughout.

It’s in addressing these relevant political issues with biting and witty lyrics where the album shines, offering some of the best lyrical moments of 2018. During the second act of the opener “Colossus”—a hardcore punk explosion that erupts from the ashes of a brooding Swans-like first act—frontman Joe Talbot offers the incredible lines “I’m like Stone Cold Steve Austin / I put homophobes in coffins / I’m like Fred Astaire / I dance like I don’t care / I’m on my best behavior / like Jesus Christ our savior.” The track “Never Fight a Man With a Perm” is an early instance of the group tackling toxic masculinity as Talbot paints the picture of a stereotypical beefed-up male that’s “one big neck with sausage hands” and ends with an offer to just “hug it out.”

Directly after “Never Fight a Man With a Perm,” the band shows their politics and begins to tackle nationalism, political differences and class inequality on “I’m Scum” as Talbot sings, “I’ll sing at fascists till my hair comes off / I’m lefty. I’m soft. I’m minimum-wage job,” and “This snowflake’s an avalanche!”

As Joy as an Act of Resistance moves forward, listeners dance and thrash to songs that continue to discuss important and recent topics like Brexit and immigration, to ponder the societal expectations of masculinity, and to delve deep into some of the most vulnerable moments of Talbot’s life. “June,” the emotional centerpiece of the album and the most emotionally affecting song in the entire IDLES catalogue, features pulsing synths heightening the strikes of the bass drum as Talbot grieves the loss of his daughter with heartbreaking lyrics like “Baby shoes: for sale. Never worn.” 

All in all, Joy as an Act of Resistance feels like a more fulfilled, more mature vision than Brutalism. IDLES have corrected some of the pacing issues from their debut, evolved their sound, and made their message more concise. The heart of this message can be found in the lyrics of “Danny Nedelko,” a song about Talbot’s love and appreciation of immigrants. Talbot sings, “He’s made of bones / he’s made of blood / he’s made of flesh / he’s made of love / he’s made of you / he’s made of me, unity!”

Joy as an Act of Resistance is ultimately a celebration of people in the face of collapse. If you search through their social media, you’ll find that IDLES and their fans have found a motto of strength in the poetry of Dylan Thomas. IDLES have decided to resist the powers that be by using love and sincerity, admitting their vulnerability in hope that others might admit theirs and join them in not going gently into the seemingly pitch-black night. –Evan Welsh

Daughters | You Won't Get What You Want | Ipecac

Daughters
You Won’t Get What You Want

Ipecac Recordings
Street: 10.26
Daughters = The Jesus Lizard + The Birthday Party + Women

I don’t think anyone would have been able to guess the Rhode Island band, Daughters’, next move after the release of their self-titled album in 2010—even without an 8-year absence from recording music, they have consistently been a band that changes and grows with each new release, making expectations for the group’s direction difficult. They even put a warning label, by way of the album’s title, for anyone who thinks they know what to expect from a Daughters’ album in 2018: You Won’t Get What You Want.

If the title of the album was not enough to let you know that this is not the Daughters you remember from nearly a decade ago, album opener “City Song” begins with a rumbling, grimey synth note and waits until nearly the 4 and a half minute mark before the first release of the assaulting, angular, grindcore-inspired instrumentals Daughters is known for. Tension has a much stronger presence on this album than in their previous works. While their last three albums focused on beating the living hell out of you in a timely manner—especially their self-titled, a sub-30 minute curb-stomp of an album that blew your house down and then disappeared before you could even wonder what the hell just happened—You Won’t Get What You Want likes to watch listeners squirm before jumping them, allowing anxiety to be part of the punishment.

This new album sees Daughters maturing as a band, expanding their sound in more ways than one. Sonically, they have incorporated new sounds like synths and pianos into their cacophonic mix and structurally they have decided to stretch songs out, allowing for more lush soundscapes, interesting passages and even moments of beauty that only assist in making this album sound expansive. This album is more epic of a beast than anyone could’ve expected—speaking solely of the album’s length, You Won’t Get What You Want is approximately 13 minutes shorter than Daughters’ previous 3 albums combined (I did the math.)

While this growth and slowing down in sound showcases the most grandiose and challenging features of the matured Daughters’ songwriting, there is of course always the possibility of slowing down into a lull. Luckily I only really found this to be an issue on the song “Less Sex,” the only track on the album I found to be a bit fatty. For me, the majority of the album has me gripped by the collar, feeling like I can occasionally look and be amazed by my surroundings before punching me in the jaw. “Satan In The Wait” and “Ocean Song” both reach beyond 7 minutes and each feel like they feature all the best of the Daughters of old and new. Alexis Marshall snarls his poetry, in a vocal style reminiscent of Nick Cave and David Yow, over the abrasive, atonal and brutal instrumentation of the group’s former work along with new found moments of reprieve and contemplation.

It’s difficult to age gracefully, and the members of Daughters are well aware they are not the same people they were only 8 years ago—so they’ve made a record that reflects the growing they’ve done. You Won’t Get What You Want adds to Daughters’ already impressive legacy a dark, aggressive, challenging and beautiful monster of an album that was well worth the nearly decade-long wait. –Evan Welsh

Street Sects | The Kicking Mule | The Flenser

Street Sects
The Kicking Mule

The Flenser
Street: 10.26
Street Sects = Nine Inch Nails + Big Black + Lost Sounds

In the opening moments of the Lost Sounds’ song “I Get Nervous,” Jay Reatard screams the titular line, and the song immediately erupts into a vertigo-causing synth line backed by raucous guitars. To my ears, Austin-based experimental duo Street Sects sound like if that singular moment was marinated in a vat of industrial and noise music, thrown deep into a neo-noir comic book and stretched into its own genre. At least, that is the impression I had of them after listening to their debut album, End Position.

Their new album, The Kicking Mule, picks up where the band left off, but since we last heard a full-length from them, they’ve tinkered with their sound, creating a record that takes their foot off the gas ever so slightly, allowing for first time listeners gradually to fall into the terrifying rabbit hole that Street Sects have constructed with their sound.

This album employs more influences from conventional rock genres—the most forward of these influences come from the post-punk world—discernable guitar, bass and drum lines push the momentum forward. I could hear touches of The Chameleons, Suicide and Six Finger Satellite. These post-punky influences help The Kicking Mule feel like a more melodramatic album than its predecessor—that’s not a bad thing, mind you. This album just feels more showy than their last. Also, just as an aside, it makes The Kicking Mule’s purple cover feel more suitable for the band’s current sound than End Positions dull, macabre blues and yellows.

Don’t get too worried about change though, the teeth-kicking industrial electro-punk that made the group’s first album stand out are still apparent—but the anxiety inducing, unpredictable nature of that first album has been turned down to make way for more melody, returning to Street Sects influences. There are more clean vocals on this release than anything they’ve released previously, which makes Leo Ashline’s dark, nihilistic lyrics regarding mental health and addiction easier to pull out. This album is still abrasive and tension filled—songs like  “269 Soulmates” and “Still Between Lovers” live up to the angry tone set by the group’s first album.

There is simply a little more room to breathe on this album, offering listeners just the slightest feeling of comfort and control. While End Position felt like a descent into a noir-soaked, schizophrenic nightmare, The Kicking Mule doesn’t feel any less demented or horrifying, but the additional room to breathe makes the album feel more alive and conscious. This feeling is partially due to the fact that the album is beautifully sequenced, moving from one song to another seamlessly with samples and distortion. The album absolutely feels like it is whole, heightened by the fullness of its structure. While End Position was also a full listen, it was harder to listen to in one sitting—especially on early listens—because of how disorienting the album was.

Fans of the first Street Sects album might be slightly disappointed by the group’s slight shift away from a sound that felt entirely their own, but even as much as I love End Position, I will admit that, at times, the album could feel like not even Street Sects knew where the next turn was. The Kicking Mule feels like an album by a band with a confident grip on their craft.  –Evan Welsh

The Men | Hated: 2008-2011 | Sacred Bones

The Men
Hated: 2008-2011

Sacred Bones Records
Street: 11.09
The Men = The Buzzcocks + Minor Threat + Parquet Courts

The Men’s new archival record, Hated: 2008-2011, accumulates the band’s early demos, splits, singles and live recordings that have either never been released or have previously only seen release in incredibly limited qualities. Since 2010’s Immaculada, The Men have released six albums that have ranged in sound from shoegaze to garage-rock—from alt-country and noise-rock to post and hardcore-punk. The Men might be one of the only bands I’ve heard over the past decade that is most safely categorized as “rock.” They are a fluid group that obviously loves the rock genre and whatever might fall under that extremely large umbrella term. While The Men are now mostly known for their huge-shifts in genre from album to album and even song to song—they were, at one point, mostly just a hard rock and punk band.

Hated focuses mostly on the group’s early stages within the punk rock scene of Brooklyn in the late ’00s and the very early ’10s. What this compilation does best is give listeners the portrait of the artist as a punk band at its core with tracks like “Twist the Knife,” “Ailment” and “Digital Age,” while also wisely curating tracks that show off the group’s variability and experimentation within the rock and punk rock genre.

The first glimpses of The Men’s future genre-jumping nature begin with tracks like “Free Sitar,” a short, Eastern-influenced interlude with the titular instrument leading the way, which transitions directly into a heavy cover of Devo’s “Gates of Steel.” Then, as the album progresses into its second half, we are treated to more songs that move away from traditional hardcore punk and noise. Tracks like “Saucy” and “Love Revolution” see the band playing with more post-punk sounds. “Captain Ahab” plays as a surf-tinged, garage-rock jam session, and the next two songs, “Cowboy Song” and “California,” are quick forays into folk and country before the collection ends with the assured rocker, “Wasted.”

It is interesting to see the first seeds of what would grow into the band that would go on an incredibly prolific run of nearly releasing an album a year from 2011 to the present, changing up their sound on seemingly every single release.

The audio quality throughout Hated is about what one might expect from a collection of songs that are mostly demos, live sets and DIY punk recordings. However, it is that exact factor that adds into how raw and energetic all the music on this compilation feels. Even when the songs move away from The Men’s original hardcore base, they manage to keep the same energy and ethos, which is part of what has made the band so fun to listen to over the years, even as they’ve changed.

Artist compilations are really specific beasts that are aimed mostly at fanatics and archivists—peoples enjoyment of a specific artist’s compilation album will tend to hinge on one’s feelings toward that act. Ultimately, this compilation does prove that, and it’s best suited for people who are already familiar and intrigued with The Men’s ever-shifting sonic history or are interested in the particular era of Brooklyn’s DIY scene fostered by venues like Death By Audio, Shea Stadium and Silent Barn. However, for those who are not fans of The Men, Hated still offers a great collection of rough-cut punk songs that fans of the genre will still enjoy. –Evan Welsh

Hen Ogledd | Mogic | Weird World

Hen Ogledd
Mogic

Weird World
Street: 11.16
Hen Ogledd = Richard Dawson + Björk (but in Welsh) + Fever Ray

I’m not sure exactly where to begin this so let’s just start here: This is a wacky listening experience. Hen Ogledd’s third album, Mogic, is an album of dichotomies between the mystical, historical region of southern Scotland and northern England, from which the group derives its name, and the imminent and present technological, artificial world—magic and logic.

The album sees the group moving away from the group’s past work in the fields of abstract noise, electronic and genres with the prefix avant-toward a more accessible palette of sounds and song structures. They’ve subverted expectations based off their previous work and even the singles released in promotion for the album.

The album starts off normally enough. “Love Time Feel,” is a gentle, psychedelic opener that leads into the album’s two singles, “Sky Burial” and “Problem Child.” The former is a slow song, almost ritualistic in feeling, that uses electronic-tinted vocals to bridge the difference between medieval and technological soundscapes. On the latter track, the bard Richard Dawson regales us a tale from the top of a mountain like only he can over a bouncy, electro-psych, post-punk instrumental. I thought that the album might stay more consistent with the styles touched upon in the opening track and singles, but I think I underestimated Hen Ogledd’s unwillingness to remain in a single place for more than a track or two at a time.

It’s hard to tell exactly when I started to think of this album as strange. It might have been on the track “First Date,” where vocals reminiscent of Björk sing over a glitchy cacophony of staccato percussion, guitar and electronics. But that’s not exactly it—I think it came after “Gwae Reged o Heddiw,” a soft interlude of a child speaking what I assume is Welsh, which feels like a short tunnel to the second half of the album, where the weirder explorations of robotics, humanity and time live.

Beginning with “Dyma Fy Robot,” the second half of Mogic seems to get progressively stranger until its close. “Tiny Witch Hunter,” is a song that, despite its more off-putting vocal effects and over-staying length, gets stuck in the brain with its effective groove and repetition. The following song, “Transport Travel,” is a spoken-word dialogue set over a mixture of primal percussion and twitching electronics. The album closes with a swirling and electronic cover of a song by English heavy metal group Venom (because of course it does) and the subtle, pristine “Etheldreda,” seemingly ending the album by questioning human qualities of reality as constructed by an artificial intelligence—a question in broader terms that seems to permeate throughout.

Mogic is psychedelic, electronic, noisy and obtuse. But, it’s also beautiful, natural and industrial, all in one. This album pits the pre-medival and the information age. What’s so strange about this album is not even the sound of it, really; it’s that each song feeling so unlike another—brimming with influences of the world, old and futuristic—yet somehow feel perfectly at home as a suite of work on Mogic. That doesn’t mean that I think this is a cohesive piece of work or a perfect one— sometimes this album might devolve and linger too much into strangeness for strangeness’ sake for my own liking. That said, I found it hard not to continually return to this album, as it feels like there is always more to dig into. Mogic feels singular, technological and human in a way that I think could only be made now, and only by these inhabitants of the mystical land of the Old North. –Evan Welsh

Xiu Xiu | Girl with Basket of Fruit | Polyvinyl

Xiu Xiu
Girl with Basket of Fruit

Polyvinyl
Street: 02.08
Xiu Xiu = Parenthetical Girls + Chino Amobi + Author & Punisher

Welcome to the cult of Xiu Xiu. Please present your offering at the altar of “The Ogs Magog Bog”: for the path is not straight, but it is the only way through.

Girl with Basket of Fruit—whether it is welcome or disappointing, is an intense shift from Xiu Xiu’s last album, Forget. Forget was the most accessible they’ve ever been as a group—forefronting catchy, pop production and melody, Xiu Xiu made an album that felt like an entryway into their deep, diverse catalog. Girl with Basket of Fruit, in a lot of ways, feels like the antithesis of Forget. The times have only gotten more desperate over the past year or so, and Xiu Xiu have shifted to reflect that desperation

Jamie Stewart’s group has returned with a new lineup, including Angela Seo, Thor Harris and Jordan Geiger, with production help from Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier to help evolve their experimental-noise sound. This album is much more along the lines of Xiu Xiu’s more abrasive work, such as Angel Guts: Red Classroom.

Girl with Basket of Fruit‘s lyrics are surreal and dense, and in many cases seeming to address feelings of anxiety and anger toward the shitstorm of the past few years. “Mary Turner Mary Turner” offers the clearest look into these lyrical themes, as Stewart retells the lynching death of the titular subject and finishes the song with the memorable “Fuck your guns. Fuck your war. Fuck your truck. Fuck your flag.” Stewart also takes on more ritual, religious and mythological themes throughout the album as well.

While Stewart’s lyrics can oftentimes be difficult to get to the bottom of—I’m looking at you, “every frog hops right up into her butthole”—and the vocals on Girl with Basket of Fruit are not always at the forefront and are often far from pristine, adding yet another layer of abstraction and challenge to the album. This is neither an error of mixing nor meer pretense. The vocals add to the feeling of anxiety over powerlessness. They often feel like they are being beaten down, choking on assaulting, claustrophobic percussion and consuming layers of synths, drones and strings—the percussion is especially standout. These instrumentals feel like a stand-in for an obscure and dangerous higher power Xiu Xiu are thematically interested in throughout the record. The final result is a Xiu Xiu album that feels like a ritualistic experience—a giving over of oneself to a frightening deity, or deities, as a final resort to combat what feels like the end times.

The central, and longest, track on Girl with Basket of Fruit, “Pumpkin Attack on Mommy and Daddy,” is a terror-filled club banger that runs sans vocals. The track is a great, plummeting intermission down into the deep-industrial house rabbit hole and is a testament to the ability of Xiu Xiu to change pace and intensity throughout the album. Interestingly, despite all the discussion of cacophony and abrasiveness, a major piece holding Girl with Basket of Fruit together as a cohesive and singular Xiu Xiu album are the strings, cut and pasted (including samples from previously released Xiu Xiu songs), and played throughout the album, giving the whole dark, chaotic work a beautiful and melancholic core.

Even 14 albums in, Xiu Xiu impressively feel forward thinking and exciting. Girl with Basket of Fruit is a dark, abstract, expressionist masterwork that opens wider and descends deeper with each listen. It is an early pace setter for the best music to be released this year. –Evan Welsh

The National
I Am Easy To Find

4AD
Street: 5.17
The National = Arcade Fire + Sufjan Stevens + Nick Cave

The National have been around for a long time now, and when bands have been making music for two decades, they can sometimes sink into a style or aesthetic that has been successful for them. Because they have a relatively robust catalog, I know that each album from The National has the possibility of falling onto my ears as a set of relatively inconsequential, brooding, big indie tracks by a collection of morose, upper-middle-class white guys. Fortunately, for me, I Am Easy To Find comes off far more positively than I had anticipated.

2017’s Sleep Well Beast showed The National beginning to experiment with some more jagged, electronic instrumentation that added a sense of liveliness to their sound. With I Am Easy To Find, The National choose not only to incorporate these punchy innovations, further but to use them to explore lighter, more spring-friendly soundscapes.

The album opener, “You Had Your Soul With You,” is a remarkably energetic introduction to I Am Easy To Find that does a great job of setting the album’s overall tone. With the same gusto that made the intro a highlight, “Where Is Her Head” stands out with its bombastic, crisp percussion and angelic harmonies, and “The Pull Of You” is similarly large and vibrant.

The inclusion of multiple guest vocalists on I Am Easy To Find allows for brighter colors and textures to contrast the croon of Matt Berninger. The allowance of the additional voices of Gail Ann Dorsey, Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan and Mina Tindle  in many case, to share the position of lead vocals create bright, rich textural contrasts to Berninger’s baritone. “Dust Swirls In Strange Light” doesn’t even feature the frontman and instead gives center stage to the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, whose place throughout the album seems to reflect the band’s attempt to add some exuberance to their beautiful, if not a tad gray, construction of the world.

The two longest songs on the album, “Not In Kansas” and “So Far So Fast,” play back to back and impressively manage not to halt the listening experience completely. The first of the two, “Kansas,” is a bit slow, but the atmosphere created by the guitar tone, violins and chorus of vocoded singers make up for the pace. The second archives the best synthesis of The National’s past and present timbre on the entire album.

Some of the songs here revert a bit to some of The National’s previous work, but even Trouble Will Find Me leftover “Rylan” is surprisingly successful in the context of I Am Easy To Find, despite it representing former songwriting ideologies. The album’s title track is stunning enough (I’m a sucker for a children’s chorus) that I don’t even mind that it feels a bit regressive in comparison to some of the album’s more instrumentally adventurous tracks.

All of that said, at over an hour long and 16 tracks, I Am Easy To Find could have used a more heavy-handed editing phase. The songs that feel more classically within The National’s moody sonic wheelhouse—slow burns like”Roman Holiday,” “Hey Rosey” and “Hairpin Turn”—just don’t keep up with the more dynamic songs on the album.

I’m not sure I Am Easy To Find will be an album that converts the band’s skeptics, but the dashes of color and excitement added to The National’s already proven formula of introspective indie rock make the best case for a change of heart as the group has ever offered. This album is an interesting case of the cover doing a great job of representing the music within—the image, in black and white, of a resting Alicia Vikander that represents the band’s musical essence, and impressionistic paint strokes on top that introduces new palettes of color to the diegesis of The National’s musical career.Evan Welsh

Devon Welsh | Dream Songs | Self-Released

Devon Welsh
Dream Songs

Self-Released
Street: 08.24
Devon Welsh = (Majical Cloudz – synths) + R.E.M.

In 2016, Devon Welsh announced that the electronic duo Majical Cloudz (comprising himself and Matthew Otto) had decided to go their separate ways after two full-length albums and two EPs—feeling like they had completed what they had set out to accomplish under the moniker.

Throughout their discography, Majical Cloudz utilized layered and atmospheric instrumentals to complement and highlight Welsh’s poetry, creating intensely emotional music while always emphasizing minimalism—Welsh’s debut does not stray far from that structure and opts to leave the synthesizers behind for a more natural soundscape. Ultimately, Dream Songs is an album that is both sonically and lyrically dedicated to the theme of transition.

The opening track, “By Daylight,” serves as a gorgeous thesis statement for Welsh’s new artistic era. The song immediately introduces the organic arrangements Welsh has now adopted—layers of plucked strings and elongated chords open, waiting for the singer’s haunting, Michael Stipe–esque voice to enter and express his feelings and anxieties. He sings, “I am a body stuck in a story/ Things more powerful than me control the actions in my life/ So I dream.”

From the opener on, we are in the dream with Welsh, reflecting with him through the music. The tracklist moves in and out of different stories that all revolve around moving through endlessly shifting time. On “Summer’s End,” he sings of agelessness and the changing seasons over soft hi-hats, guitars and strings. The droning chords on “Comedian” accompany a dialogue on eternal life, and “Vampires” sees Welsh “moving on” from old towns and routines. “I’ll Be Your Ladder” is the emotional center of the album: As a looping saxophone and strings crescendo, Welsh optimistically accepts the inevitability of change and his role within. While the climax of the album rests near the end of the record, the theme of constant transition makes it so there never really feels like there is any sort of cumulative emotional arc, but I suppose that is the nature of dreams.

Part of what makes it so easy for listeners to fall into the dream world with Welsh is how perfectly his hugely emotive voice fits atop the Austin Tufts (Braids)–produced string quartet-, piano- and guitar-focused instrumentals. The songs starts off simply and then build around the tone of Welsh’s vocals until they reach an emotional peak. Because of this, fans of Majical Cloudz will feel at home with this album, even if the electronic atmosphere of the group has been mostly left behind. The similarities in song structure give old fans a hand to hold while Welsh transitions his aesthetic approach.

Whether linear, cyclical or eternal, we are all subject to time. It is up to us how we handle these forced shifts. Devon Welsh spends Dream Songs pondering transitions of all kinds, from alive to dead, from in love to out-of-touch, and displays an artistic growth from his time with Majical Cloudz, however slight, to move toward a new era in his artistic career. It’ll be interesting to hear what Welsh creates after he has left this protean dream-state, if it’s possible to leave it at all. –Evan Welsh

Mitski | Be the Cowboy | Dead Oceans

Mitski
Be the Cowboy

Dead Oceans
Street: 08.17
Mitski = St. Vincent + Fiona Apple + Pixies

Mitski’s last two albums, Bury Me at Makeout Creek and Puberty 2, took her from an artist whose name was known and discussed mostly within small indie circles into one of critical acclaim and popularity with her lyrical directness complemented by raw, straightforward guitar-led instrumentals. Her new album, Be The Cowboy, takes risks in moving beyond the sound that catapulted her career to new heights but, in doing so, feels like Mitski’s coming-out as a full-force pop star.

This isn’t to say that all of what everyone loved about Mitski is gone—the elements of rock are still there. The opening track, “Geyser,” explodes with a low, grungy rhythmic guitar that broods under the ascending synthesizers. Songs like “A Pearl” feature guitar crescendos that fans will find familiar but add some much welcomed horns and a more polished production value that wasn’t really present on Mitski’s last two projects.

Where Be The Cowboy shines most is in the moments where Mitski plays with sounds that she’s never used before or where she returns to influences that fans of her last two albums may be unaware she had in her previous work. Mitski’s first full-length, Lush, was a Fiona Apple-like piano pop record, and that influence seeps through in a magnificent way on “Me and My Husband.” “Lonesome Love” feels like a lost Angel Olsen B-side (in a good way, I promise), and the song “Nobody” is a straight-up 1970’s dance ballad that is about as infectious and emotionally poignant as a song of that genre can get.

And even more than the sonic growth, what makes this album so great is how effectively emotional the songs still are. Mitski has, incredibly, not sacrificed the personal nature of her songwriting for the new pop sheen. For this album, Mitski was influenced by fiction and narrative, and tried to write with some of those influences in mind. While this is certainly not a concept album or an album that follows a narrative with characters and story arcs, Be The Cowboy displays a woman grappling for control and finding herself unravelling emotionally in a world that’s both uncomfortable with women in control and condescending to women who express themselves when they feel like they’re losing control. Mitski does a masterful job of painting this picture.

The album closes with the beautiful “Two Slow Dancers.” As she sings of lost youth for that last couple on the dance floor, it is hard for me not to see the song as more than a wave goodbye to the people we used to be—it’s a wave goodbye to the Mitski of Bury Me at Makeout Creek and Puberty 2. She has evolved as an artist and a person, and no matter how hard that evolution may be, it is silly “to think that we could stay the same.”

The album’s title represents a certain confidence for Mitski, and Be The Cowboy—more than any of her previous records—feels assured. She has fully grabbed onto the control her protagonist is reaching for. Iggy Pop recently said on BBC 6 Radio that he believes Mitski is “the most advanced American songwriter that I know.” She is absolutely a rockstar—we know it, Iggy Pop apparently knows it, and on Be The Cowboy, Mitski has made it abundantly clear that she knows it, too. –Evan Welsh