Kasey Musgraves has been describing this album, her third proper major-label release, as “cosmic country.” The result is a collection as pretty as that phrase. These tunes lightly touch on disco and R&B, all while maintaining firm roots in Americana. Fleetwood Mac, whose refined, genre-bending work on Rumours and Tango in the Night, comes to mind as the most obvious signpost. The band possesses the starlight lilt for which Musgraves aims.
By candlelight, over a romantic dinner. Musgraves’ songs aren’t just built for swooning, but for contemplation and conversation. “When a horse wants to run, ain’t no sense in closing the gate,” she sings on the single “Space Cowboy,” which treats love as an active choice made by its participants rather than some sort of mystical lasso.
Golden Hour would be an amazing soundtrack to early mornings on a honeymoon. It’s an album about love—mostly its ups, sometimes its downs—and works so well because, ultimately, Musgraves writes about everyday optimism rather than fairy-tale life.
Since her MCA Nashville debut, 2013’s Same Trailer, Different Park, Kasey Musgraves has been hailed as a maverick—a progressive voice in a musical landscape known for its conservatism. Older songs such as “Follow Your Arrow” and “Merry Go Round” take a critical look at the small-town life that many of her other songs hold so dear. The approach made Musgraves seem as something of country outsider, a modern inheritor to Waylon Jennings or Roseanne Cash. In reality, Musgraves comes on as the ultimate country insider, an artist who values musical traditionalism as much as she does experimentation—and a songwriter who sings honestly about the life she’s lived rather than the one audiences want to imagine.
A similar method continues with the marvelously thoughtful and delicately adventurous Golden Hour, a work that finds Musgraves throwing fans her boldest curve yet. She’s largely abandoned pithy observations and instead has zeroes in on romance, crafting an album that not only dares to be happy but asks what happiness means today. “I know a few things but I still got a lot to learn,” the 29-year-old sings on “Slow Burn,” an earnestly dreamy opener graced by a serene banjo. The songs set up a record out to explore curiosity and wonder, and Musgraves has admitted that the work reflects the feelings surrounding her recent marriage.
In turn, Golden Hour feels radical in its optimism. “Oh, What a World” witnesses Musgraves gradually introducing new sonic tricks to her repertoire. The tune opens with a vocoder, and eventually asks the listener to stop, slow down, and marvel at the universe surrounds us. “High Horse” is already vying for song of the summer, thanks to its bright and syrupy disco groove. Musgraves’ normal friendly, approachable, down-to-earth voice takes on a falsetto shine, and the phrase “why don’t you giddy up, giddy up, and ride straight outta this town” arrives as friendliest albeit meanest kiss in recent memory. Still, even here, Musgraves isn’t out to lecture. She just doesn’t want someone else ruining her good vibes.
At times, Golden Hour is striking in its sparseness. The emotionally intense “Mother,” at less than 90 seconds, comes across as a piano reverie that reflects on multiple generations of a family brought on by the guilt at moving away from home. Backyard harmonies and soft acoustics lend a touch of elegance to the know-it-when-you-feel-it tone of “Love Is a Wild Thing” while a slight synthesizer beat punctuates “Happy & Sad,” in which the narrator tries to get comfortable with feeling good. The latter epitomizes the record’s production, where acoustic elements merge with futuristic themes. The spunky pop feel of “Velvet Elvis,” for instance, or the glossy ode to imperfections that doubles as “Wonder Woman.” Working with producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, Musgraves keep the music grounded all while yearning to be in orbit.
Mirroring the music’s feel, the sonics seemingly put Musgraves and her collaborators on a cloud. Her voice is clear, centered, and well-recorded to the point you can detect her breaths traveling from her chest cavity. Alas, my copy of MCA’s LP is riddled with surprise (and surprisingly loud) tics that arrive announced akin to hard-to-see potholes in a street. Good luck, too, keeping it quiet, particularly on stripped-back tracks such as the gorgeous “Mother.”
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