I could barely remember the last time a pure country album caught my attention by blowing up with praise from every music review site out there. It is with this curiosity, along with a blog user’s remark that “this will convert more gays into country than Joanne did”, that I clicked play on Kacey Musgraves’ third studio album, just to see what all the fuss is about. And the decision was nicely made – ‘Golden Hour’ is one of the first albums this year that really dazzled me, with its beautiful songwriting and taking the traditional country album a few steps forward.
With that said, I guess this isn’t a pure country album. It’s traditional country meeting pop and disco, futurism and electronics meeting tambourines and cowboys. And it makes the record an eye-opener for someone that finds country unapproachable or off-putting, for the stereotype that it’s the same acoustic guitars with the same Texan accents monotonously singing about heartbreaks and “the simple life”. This is someone that genuinely looks to appreciate the world for how big and how wonderful it is and make it sound fresh in the process – in standout ‘Oh, What A World’ for example, she spots the positive sentiments and shares her delight – the northern lights, nature, and then the person that she loves. While she mixes celestial vocoders with banjos for a hint of fresh sound, we rarely see it overshadow the main event – the gorgeous melody with the joy in her voice that is what’s almost hard to believe.
In the record, I’m impressed with the wordplay and humour that’s sprinkled around. In the lead single ‘Space Cowboy’ for instance, the song is smartly titled to be dedicated to the lover that leaves for the infinite space that he needs on his stallion, or ‘High Horse’, the unexpected banger from a collection of super-chilled strollers, written a little bit too relatable for the people in Musgraves and every listener’s lives that ride their proud and arrogant egos that can just fuck off altogether. Other breathtaking standouts come from the pure simplicity and intimacy that comes with the singer-songwriter nature of songs. Musgraves writes from everyday themes that relate to all: FOMO in stay-in weekends caused by technology but failing to treasure the quietness and comfort while it lasts (‘Lonely Weekend’); the peaks of our happiness that melancholy might be bound to come after (‘Happy & Sad’, with its stunning instrumental key change); and in her most honest and autobiographical, the opening ‘Slow Burn’ details the expansion of Musgraves’ life from Texas to Tennessee, to Beijing and the world beyond it. Despite the world moving at a pace faster than ever, she refuses to keep up, and she refuses to take in every single wonderful moment of it. It opens the sun-drenched, awestruck paradise that she lives in, where even though the sun doesn’t forever shine, it’s blue skies above all.
Sure – call it cheesy and call it bland, because essentially optimism bookends the record and between it, and that might not always be the most exciting of things. However, when thinking about how it’s getting rare to find a genuinely heartwarming moment in the world, in music for that matter, it really shows how treacherous the record is. And when the music is done in such flair and beauty, why not take the scenic route for a change?
(7.9 / 10)