Review: Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour “Utterly captivating cosmic country-pop that simply delights”

Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour

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★★★★★

Golden Hour is a beautiful, bold and experimental record that goes exciting new places without losing that trademark Kacey Musgraves sound that warms your soul

It feels almost an eternity ago in which Kacey Musgraves released her Grammy-winning debut album ‘Same Trailer, Different Park’, an outstanding debut album which dominated the pop-country charts and started the ‘New Nashville’ scene which would go on to produce massive country/mainstream crossover artists such as Chris Stapleton and the very clearly Musgraves influenced Maren Morris. The record itself was full of melancholic insights written by a young girl struggling with her small town roots, what elevated it, however, was Musgraves humorous and light-hearted take on her surroundings and positive outlook on life. Not to mention Musgraves defiance to sticking to norms as she managed to incorporate a positive stance on LGBT and Marijuana use in a mainstream pop single (‘Follow Your Arrow’).

Her 2015 follow-up ‘Pageant Material’ failed to hit the same highs as her debut, having grown as an artist Musgraves seemed lost in what direction the overall record should take, it lacked a killer pop single and seemed to fall into stereotypical country tropes, That’s not to say it wasn’t a good country record but it seemed to be missing the spark emitted by ‘Same Trailer’ which made a truly momentous occasion for the genre.

Cue ‘Golden Hour’, a galactic country-pop masterpiece, never has the sound of synthesizers and pedal-steel guitars melded so well together before. Before it’s release Musgraves described the process of making the album as “What if Imogen Heap made a country album”, on paper the idea may sound quite strange but in its execution, it’s a triumph and results in Musgraves most cohesive work to date.

“It’s weird, I've always shied away from having quote-unquote, "relationship songs”…. I wanted to see what would happen if I did it my own way.” she told GQ. Musgraves has always had a penchant for writing smart, witty and introspective lyrics, however with ‘Golden Hour’ she’s swapped the humour for well-written romance. a concept she’s only started to become familiar with since marriage. It means the songs come from an honest place in her heart, rather than a more typical cliched attempt at love. 

The album opens with ‘Slow Burn’, A traditional country number with a soothing guitar melody, the lyrics taken from the early unreleased track ‘John Prine’. whereas in it’s old form it was more of a take no prisoners statement of ‘Look at me and my individuality’ most notably when she sings “Grandma cried when I pierced my nose / Never liked doing what I was told.” This 2018 rework, however, shows a much more mature retrospective look back on the effects of her youthful arrogance, one we all go through when we want to rebel.

I’ve already written excessively about the incredible pre-release singles ‘Butterflies’ and ‘Space Cowboy’. One thing I noted was the dreamlike, cosmic aesthetic that melds the two together. Now on release it’s clear this is a constant presence on the record from it’s first note to it’s last and the experimentation doesn’t end there ‘Lonely Weekend’ is a ballad of contrasts, it’s sorrowful words are a stark opposition to Musgraves spritely vocals and catchy strums. Talking of comparisons ‘Happy & Sad’ enhances the concept even further with a touching ballad that finds Musgraves contemplating on just how to describe her tears of joy as well as that all too familiar anxiety you feel when everything is going right in your life.

‘Oh, What A World’ takes the idea of spaced out country-pop to the extreme resulting is the best song of Musgraves career. Opening with a Daft Punk styled vocoder intro, you’re immediately thrown off-guard before Musgraves soothing vocals gently lead you through the first verse into the songs stellar chorus. It’s secret weapon being the sudden appearance of an infectiously catchy steel guitar, all laced over Musgraves existential adoration of planet earth and her husband.

Meaningful lyrics and well-composed instrumentation would mean nothing however if Musgraves vocals couldn’t propel them along, thankfully her vocals have never sounded better. It’s slight but experience has allowed Musgraves to fine tune her vocals, most notably if you compare this new collection of songs to her previous albums. with ‘Golden Hour’ she reaches much higher notes whilst her accent is a lot softer giving her tone a lighter and more captivating presence.

The record has a couple blips, ‘High Horse’ strays too far over the line into cheesy disco territory that ‘Velvet Elvis’ managed to carefully teeter on and title track ‘Golden Hour’ can’t live up to the spectacular Elton John styled piano ballad ‘Rainbow’ it sits next to at the end of the record. Overall the long wait for a third Kacey Musgraves album has been more than justified, it’s mixture of autobiographical lovestruck insights about the world and combination of sounds makes for not just the best album of her career but one of the best country albums released in years.