“I like everything except for country,” is definitely something I have said many times in regards to my music tastes, apologies to anybody I went to high school with. As with the equally common “I like everything except for rap,” this is a cursory critique resting on the view of music and pop culture as background noise or a distractor from the “real” things in our lives rather than intuitive, accessible expressions of people in relation to the world and each other. Everyone has tastes and preferences, but this type of dismissive judgment is often conflated to a value statement rooted in the cynical view that truth can be monopolized by whatever context we find understandable or tolerable.
Country artist Kacey Musgraves challenges this on Golden Hour, an album that takes a calculated and caring look at division. “Texas is hot, I can be cold. Grandma cried when I pierced my nose,” she sings on the cool and confident opener “Slow Burn,” distilling generational and geographical wedges into a personal and empathetic reflection.
This type of careful negotiation is constant throughout Golden Hour. Musgraves writes beautifully about her feelings in relation to the feelings of others—trusting herself while preserving the ability to be wrong and to grow.
Crucial to this goal is the sense of wonder on the album. Musgraves is most accurately defined as a country artist, but filters a wide and surprising range of inspirations and aesthetics through the album’s thirteen songs. Using varied instrumentation and production techniques—from vocoders to reverse-tracked guitars— Kacey Musgraves enhances the curious and awe-filled posture of her songwriting without delving into proprietary imitations of her inspirations. “Thank God it’s not too good to be true,” she sings on “Oh, What a World,” an ode to beauty that strikes an unlikely balance between the influences of Daft Punk, U2, and Neil Young.
While curious about things outside herself, her love and care for the world also encompass things she has always known. The song “Mother” is an arresting reflection on familial love. The song is slight in both length and presentation—coming in at just over a minute long and featuring just piano and voice—when it has the potential to build to a sweeping ballad. The decided smallness is more poignant; the song is brief and refreshing in the way that even a short phone call with a parent or loved one can be grounding and affecting.
Golden Hour is an album of love songs to people, places, and herself; cherishing memory while avoiding the myth of “the good old days;” and eagerly stepping out into the world without unfairly stepping on the past. (MCA Nashville)