Photo: Kelly Christine Sutton

Kacey Musgraves Creates a Radical Musical Landscape on ‘Golden Hour’

Kacey Musgraves centers Golden Hour on her individuality and creates a radical musical landscape.

Golden Hour
Kacey Musgraves
MCA Nashville
30 March 2018

Is it too early in the year to nominate releases for album of the year? No! Especially since Kacey Musgraves’ recent albumGolden Hour should be at the top of the nomination list. Golden Hour is Musgraves’ third major studio album. Co-writing and co-producing all 13 tracks, Musgraves found herself in a new musical and personal space for this album. At the time of the recording, Musgraves was blissfully moonstruck from a recent marriage. Musically she chose a different route by working with producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk. It’s not surprising then that listeners hear an upsurge of elation and audacity in Golden Hour.

Lonely Weekend” is one of Golden Hour‘s standout tracks. The song first gives the impression that it’s an homage to the Waylon Jennings’ or Charlie Rich’s song of a similar title. Jennings’ and Rich’s versions, though, wallow in absolute heartache. Listeners might think Musgrave’s version is heading in the same direction. She sings “Monday, I was gone, and Tuesday, you were working late, Wednesday went to hell, and Thursday kinda had the wait.” But Musgraves adds her unique lyrical take as the song progresses. Instead of reeling, Musgraves realizes that loneliness isn’t always equatable to abject desolation. She declares “Guess I’m hangin’ by myself, but I don’t mind (I don’t mind), It’s alright to be alone, sometimes.” It is alright. Rather than being a helpless bystander to her circumstances, Musgraves shows listeners the power of solitude.

Golden Hour feels so empowered. That is heard in the opening track “Slow Burn” when she sings “I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be alright.” Or even in “Wonder Woman” she evokes subjectivity as she sings “All I need’s a place to land, I don’t need a Superman to win my lovin’.” Music across genres needs to be endowed with this type of self-assurance. Being gallant, whether it is musically or personally, is the indisputable motive of Golden Hour. For instance, “Space Cowboy” features her country vocals that are both emotive and confident. Singing about a relationship that’s ended, the song isn’t washed in melancholy; it’s an unembellished musical equivalent to a shoulder shrug. But not in a way that expresses apathy. The dismissal of the cowboy demonstrates her ability to be unafraid.

Musgraves’ sharp honesty carries over from her previous albums. Fans of Same Trailer, Different Park and Pageant Material will recognize her brand of snark in “High Horse“. Her bluntness radiates when she sings, ’cause everyone knows someone who kills the buzz. Every time they open up their mouth.” “High Horse” projects the middle finger to her detractors. In doing so, Musgraves completely subverts the standardized criteria that makes a song sellable.

Musgraves demonstrates the nuance of emotion by balancing the brashness with tenderness. The track ” Butterflies” shows a vocal performance that feels uninhibited but projects vulnerability. Likewise, the lyrics represent a sense of effective emancipation. The ultimate love song, “Butterflies”, captures the bewitchery of absolute happiness. As good as this tune is, using butterflies as a metaphor for change or singing “you brought me out of my chrysalis” is a little too cliche. But I am willing to overlook it because the song’s sentiment feels so authentic.

At times, it is difficult to hear her country music roots. Listeners will register the sound of the occasional banjo, a twangy piano, or even the echoes of a steel guitar but the album heavily relies on synthesizers. ” Velvet Elvis” is altogether pop inspired complete with an irresistible beat. Except when the piano picks up the hook, listeners have to strain to hear the country influence. Yet this endows the entire album with effervescent energy. Golden Hour takes an even more adventurous detour with the vocoder refrain on “Oh, What a World” and the Bee Gees-esque vibe of “High Horse”. But these are innovative musical experiments that work. Musgrave conjures up pop/dance music thereby dazzling the edges of the country music genre.

Musgraves is going to have a tremendous and meaningful year. On tour throughout the summer and opening for Harry Styles, Musgraves will have the chance to peddle her sound and gain new fans. Musgraves’ veracity, which endeared fans to her previous albums, will certainly draw them back to Golden Hour. She centers Golden Hour on her individuality and creates a radical musical landscape.