Within the span of three studio albums, one being a holiday collection, Kacey Musgraves established herself as sharp-witted, sincere, and assured. Her brand of country music recalls the storytelling glory days of the 90s; characters live and die in her songs, holding up mirrors to themselves and thereby to those of us following their journeys. While she’s been largely and frustratingly ignored by mainstream country ratio, Musgraves amassed legions of devoted fans and critics alike who respect her creative zeal and individuality.
That’s why the Texas native’s newest album Golden Hour is even more impressive. Musgraves took everything we love about her and scattered the elements across new soundscapes. Though she’s dialed back some of the cheeky cleverness she mastered on songs like “My House” and “Biscuits,” Musgraves recontextualized her abilities under an umbrella of earnest love songs. Not that she’s a stranger to the topic – “Late To The Party” from her 2015 sophomore effort Pageant Material remains a relatable romantic romp – but this new set of songs has a palpable infatuation. Just as she makes you feel stifled when listened to a song about a small town, or defiant when bucking tradition, 29-year-old Musgraves crafts vibrant, kaleidoscope love songs on Golden Hour.
New love opens you up to new possibilities, both for your relationship and yourself. Perhaps that’s why Kacey steered her art into new planes. Collaborating with Nashville producers Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian scratched away layers of gloss and stretched the sonic palettes of the 13 songs on Golden Hour. Take “Oh, What a World,” track 4; what could easily be a stripped, acoustic song opens with a robotic, vocoder variation of the chorus and blossoms with electronic textures, both modern and classic country. There’s also the second verse of first single “Butterflies,” where Musgraves sings “I was hiding in doubt ’til you brought me out of my chrysalis.” The word ‘chrysalis’ is punctuated with a vocoder backing vocal that elevates such a specific, beautiful line. Moments like this are frequent on Golden Hour. Instruments and textures bloom sporadically like you’re listening to them grow and change with each new word Musgraves sings.
The vibes Musgraves captures truly reflect the record’s title, that moment just before the sunsets. Listeners may be reminded of records like Beck’s Morning Phase when listening to a song like opener “Slow Burn.” As the melody unfolds and strings drench the song in sunlight, Musgraves sings the album’s mission statement: “I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be alright.”
Not everything is “butterflies and rainbows” on Golden Hour. Be prepared to be devastated by the gut punch of “Space Cowboy.” Turning the iconic rock phrase on its head, Musgraves sings to a lover who’d rather ride off into the galaxy than stay on Earth with her. Minimal musical accompaniment leads to a well-deserved key change, launching the song to new heights as steel guitar swirls.
Elsewhere, Musgraves takes her biggest risk to date with the warm disco song “High Horse.” Anyone sleeping on her talent before listening to “High Horse” was made aware via its Bee Gees meets Dolly Parton approach. While this departure leaves you wanting a full record of songs like this, “High Horse” injects an energy into the set to coast you into its final tracks.
Golden Hour closes with a sparse, beautiful piano ballad called “Rainbow.” In any other artist’s hands, it could be overly schmaltzy and optimistic. Musgraves approaches the subject matter with such a glorious earnestness that you can’t help but agree that yes, a rainbow has definitely always been hanging over your head, and yes, it will be alright.