Kacey Musgraves became well known after winning a Grammy in 2014 for her debut album, Same Trailer Different Park. Her lyrics raised some eyebrows, but they were also the driving force behind her quickly found success. Her new album, Golden Hour, tops all other country albums released in the past few years. It can hardly be considered country, though. The record, which is more indie and singer-songwriter than anything else, is incredibly consistent through its simplicity. Throughout Golden Hour, Musgraves is in command of the vernacular with beautifully insightful and raw lyrics. It is rare for modern-day albums to carry the effortless cohesion featured in this one.
The album begins with “Slow Burn,” which is a bit nonsensical, yet extremely relatable. In the song, Musgraves sings about her differences as seen through older generations, which is illustrated in the rather comic lyric, “Grandma cried when I pierced my nose … I’m gonna do it my way, It’ll be alright / If we burn it down and it takes all night.”
The third song on the album, “Butterflies,” is easily the best on the record. Between Musgraves’s intricate vocal inflections and musical illustrations, the song displays a delicate intimacy that is achieved only through powerfully honest songwriting. “Butterflies” illustrates Musgraves’s amazing vocal capacity in addition to her lyrical talent. It also features slight electronic modifications—just on one word in the entire song, “chrysalis”—to allow the unique and raw nature of the song stand out. It is the small details like this that allow Musgraves to truly combine touches of modernity to very traditional songwriting.
These moments of double tracking are rare on her album, but when they occur they enhance its meaning. These areas of unexpected modifications are often balanced with instrumental interludes, such as in “Oh, What a World,” which features synthesized vocals in the beginning and end but an extensive banjo solo in the middle.
A standout song on Golden Hour is current single “Space Cowboy,” a take on “The Joker” by Steve Miller Band. The song features simple lyrics and effortless rhymes, but feels so real it’s easy to get lost in the song. Following “Space Cowboy” is “Happy & Sad,” a song so raw that it is painfully relatable. The echoes and effects of the song reinforce its meaning. Lines like “And I’m the kind of person who starts getting kind of nervous / When I’m having the time of my life” pierce the song. On the entire record, but especially on songs like “Happy & Sad,” Musgraves creates a shared reality between herself and the listener, one that is mediated through the mellow melodies of the music.
Toward the end of the album, the songs become more upbeat while still keeping the strong vocals, lyrics, and instrumentals at the forefront. The first of these pop songs is “Velvet Elvis” which is both nonsensical and comedic. It is similar in both rhythm and mentality to Maren Morris’s “80s Mercedes.” The song hardly has any meaning, but it is pure fun. The instrumental parts balance out the bass-heavy sound.
“High Horse” features funny lyrics and a disco sound. One of the most interesting aspects of this song is that Musgraves’s intricate vocal inflections are mimicked by the lead guitar, creating a unique and sonically pleasing sound throughout the song.
The last two songs on the record, “Golden Hour” and “Rainbow,” are calm and uplifting. “Golden Hour,” the album’s namesake, is mellow and honest, and features simple yet skillful guitar. Co-written with lyrical powerhouse Shane McAnally, “Rainbow” is the perfect way to end the album, complete with heartwarming lyrics and a sweet storyline. The song is happy, and the song moves in a cyclical rhythm. After a lengthy musical interlude, the song ends with the words, “It’ll all be alright,” making the entire album feel uplifting and bright.
Musgraves has somehow topped her Grammy-winning debut album with Golden Hour. It shines bright in a time of mundane, repetitive, or overly modified album releases across all genres. Its soft disposition and mellow aura are calming, and the honest lyrics make for engaged listening throughout the entire record. Combine that with the album’s unrivaled sense of cohesion, and it is easy to realize that Musgraves has permanently raised the bar.
Featured Image by Mercury Records