Undefined Collective

Album Review

Kacey Musgraves

Golden Hour

4.5

Brian Pope

November 28, 2018

When enjoying and analyzing a work, it is often crucial to consider the artistic intent of the album. And for the recording of Golden Hour, the Golden, TX native Kacey Musgraves credits her influences to be largely pop, going so far as to call her goal for the album to be a “country Katy Perry.” She combines these aspirations for a clean, optimistic sound with her ambition to describe her life where it stands now: in its “Golden Hour.” Coming off of a recent marriage to singer/songwriter Ruston Kelly, and fully beginning to enjoy the fruits of her years of labor, this album is a celebration; a time to bask in the sunlight. So with that in mind, it’s unsurprising that this record finds itself rather devoid of conflict, or the typical country grit that records like Same Trailer, Different Park could be closer, although still not fully, attached to. With all that being said, that’s absolutely the point, and this album does a fantastic job of making that known through the music with a sharp blend of saccharine pop music and an infectious southern charm.
One of this album’s prime selling points is its ability to evoke the themes of the lyrics in the instrumental itself. “Slow Burn” accomplishes this superbly with an instrumental that moves like molasses under patient vocals. The comforting lyrics match this well, talking about getting intoxicated with ones you love and just spending time enjoying yourself without a care in the world. Through this, you can make life seem timeless by just letting yourself live and be free. This theme continues with “Lonely Weekend,” describing that feeling when you realize there’s no one around, but are just happy to spend time with yourself doing what you love. Being alone isn’t always a bad thing, and this incredibly warm and catchy track really puts that in perspective with the irresistible vocal melodies and bittersweet acoustic guitar chords.
The sunshine pop of “Butterflies” is gorgeous as well, a song which describes that feeling of having endured past obstacles to find the light at the end of a tunnel that the song finds itself dancing in circles in. The plinking keys and jaunty synths on this song do wonders at pushing forward that feeling of stomach-churning ecstasy. One of the most beautiful tracks on the record comes after that with “Oh, What a World,” an existential, joyous track that simply marvels at the beauty of the world. It’s woven into the idea of how wondrous and bewildering it is to truly have love for a significant other, with this summer-y instrumentation and descending banjo riff that really carry the track’s lush production and sunny writing.

“Kacey set out to make a positive, warm, and inviting album that implores the listener to look at the bright side of life and appreciate the good things.”

The album probably takes its deepest dive into country with “Love Is a Wild Thing,” another delicate, inviting track with some pleasant, breezy synths and slide guitars that blow behind a meandering banjo melody. I love the beautifully written chorus on this thing, which personifies love as this ever-present untamable force, ready to pounce at the drop of a hat, positioning its victim as helpless to its control. “Wonder Woman” follows a similar sonic approach with a clean banjo tune, and lyrically it details the idea that no one’s perfect: “I don’t need a Superman to win my lovin’/’Cause, baby, I ain’t Wonder Woman.” The chorus is fantastic, and I love that delay effect on the guitar chord that sings out after the first line. Unfortunately, the bridge here comes off as relatively rushed and insubstantial, without adding much to the song, but the little piano melody that follows it is enough to bring the song back into the fold.
This takes us to what could be considered the centerpiece of the album’s disposition with the bittersweet “Happy & Sad,” a song that beautifully describes that unshakeable apprehension anyone gets when having the time of their lives of knowing that it won’t last forever. The chorus is one of the greatest on the album, and it’s truly brilliant the way the mid-paced acoustic guitar plods along with the vocals. Kacey lends her strongest vocal performance on the entire record, her voice slathered with that addictive southern affectation that only does more to push forward that moving sense of innocence and insecurity.
But between the emotionally gripping ballads and soft rock ditties, Golden Hour doesn’t lose sight of its ability to have fun. Enter “High Horse,” which has this disco flavor to it the way it’s written with the strong backbeat that pulses through the song. It’s got this electric guitar riff on the chorus too that actually kind of sounds like something a rodeo clown with a guitar would pluck out. The song itself is a lot of fun and certainly the most danceable on the album. The cheerful soft rock title track pairs with it nicely, saying “everything’s gonna be alright,” as if to answer the anxiety of “Happy & Sad” with its own carpe diem satisfaction. The starry-eyed hook on this track is breathtaking and, akin to its being the title track, does a great job of encapsulating a lot of the themes and emotions of the whole album.
With the head-in-the-clouds demeanor that much of Golden Hour indulges in, the melancholic ballads interspersed across the album do a great job of jarring the listener back to reality. “Space Cowboy” describes a couple breaking up, and has this lamenting descending piano melody and sparse production that matches the track’s conception of creating space. The line of giving a cowboy space is a smart and relatable pop lyric that really ties into the atmospheric instrumental well. It’s one of the more downplayed and forgettable on the record, but one certainly can’t deny the colorful vibraphone that courses through the song. “Mother” is some of the saddest material on the record, alerting the listener to the brevity of time we get with loved ones. Regrettably, it plays more like a brief interlude than a fully conceptualized song, and adds little to the album’s objectives. The inspirational piano-led “Rainbow” takes a positive spin on that idea of waking up the listener by informing them of their own self-worth. The lyrics on this song really do wonders to close out the album, and the chorus is sung in a way that really leaves the positive message with you and ends the project on a high note.
And that’s it, really. Golden Hour is a pleasant, wonderful record with a lot of sunny and lovely pop songs that uplift the soul. And really, to call this album “bland” is to say that you’ve completely missed the point. Kacey set out to make a positive, warm, and inviting album that implores the listener to look at the bright side of life and appreciate the good things. To that end, this record is wildly successful. Is it perfect? Not quite. The album could’ve done without the uninteresting and kind of sloppily written “Velvet Elvis,” which stands as a mere footnote to the rest of the album. But at the end of the day, Golden Hour excels at combining the vibrant components of dream pop, soft rock, and contemporary country to create an accessible yet unique and intoxicating release that will certainly leave you in a better mood by the end of its palatable 45 minute runtime.

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