A Review of Kacey Musgraves’s “Golden Hour”
When I consider country music, Brooks & Dunn flash in my mind with their tried and true songwriting that stands the test of time: emotionally-bare tropes of loss preview mentions of whiskey and potentially unhealthy behavior. I love it. Country music operates within the feelings understood behind slammed doors in a similar way than R&B. In her fourth studio album, “Golden Hour” (2018), the Golden, Texas-born musician expands the definition of country music with her addition of pop elements and perspective on modern relationships.
Musgraves enlists a banjo and the pedal steel to achieve a sound that you don’t find shame jamming to. It peeks through any judgement until there are no reservations about the cowgirl-aesthetic. It doesn’t matter if you don’t listen to country pop, “Golden Hour” stands on its own as an amazing album. The album explores progression, embracing joy, finding more sources of beauty, and remaining grounded in the conditions of the thrills.
Pop music’s beloved topics are appreciated across each song: being lonely on a weekend, struggling with metaphorical butterflies, appreciating the fleeting company of another. Musgraves isn’t monotonous in covering similar material than songs on the radio, but rather, supports the album with her ability to do so. She can do it all. The album contains pop conventions in songwriting but “Velvet Elvis” and “High Horse” follow up with 90–120 BPM kick-clap arrangements that belong in the mainstream rotation.
Check out the music video for “High Horse” below:
“Wonder Woman” uses the banjo on top of this production to deliver a high-point on the album. The banjo introduces a warmth that only gets warmer from the major chord progression — it goes further than the ‘pop’ and ventures into fresh country pop at its best. “Happy and Sad” goes even further to bring the encompassing pedal steel along the muted kick-snare to produce the coolest genre-blend on the album.
Along with this blend, Musgraves captures the all-too-relatable feeling of not wanting the night to end. Thematically, Musgraves takes a pause from the sensational flow to add another layer of value: “But when everything is perfect, I start hidin’ / ’Cause I know that rain is comin’ my way, my way”. At many points, the album is self-aware in impressive ways, making it responsibly enjoyable.
The blend of the two genres bring the listener to a soothing drive that has no shame in abiding by the speed limit at times (like Radiator Springs Racers at Disneyland). “Butterflies” coasts in the slight anxiety surrounding a budding relationship. Before you know it, the pedal steel is gracing the chorus and you’re in the middle of a bluegrass love story. Maturity emerges on “Love Is A Wild Thing” while considering the abundance of love in the world, fantasy aside. By taking a pause from high BPM arrangements, Musgraves is able to consider themes of anxiety and reflection in a substantive way. Meandering through melodies in Brooks & Dunn fashion, Musgraves translates her emotions in a way that’s accessible and relatable for all listeners.
The album moves at a safe, dedicated pace that allows for a range of listening experiences. However, it also exists for Musgraves just as much as it exists for the listener. She takes space for herself and dances in intimate introspection. At her most vulnerable, “Mother” maps her own understanding of motherhood. In an interview with Taste of Country, Musgraves credits the ballad to an acid trip where she felt admiration and love for her mother:
“I started thinking about the cycle of mothers and the fact that I was sitting there in Tennessee missing my mom who was sitting there in Texas missing her mom. It just goes on and on.”
Despite being the shortest song on the album, it truly feels like Musgraves tore the popstar image for a second and shared what she needed to.
Breaks apart from the party don’t carry humiliation more than dignity and appreciation for everything that makes Kacey Musgraves who she is. Shortly following “Mother”, “Space Cowboy” features a practical take on a fleeting lover. There’s no aggression or ill-will expressed but a mature-class value that starkly contrasts breakup hits like Miranda Lambert’s ”Gunpowder and Lead” and Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Getting Back Together”. Evident in “Wonder Woman” as well, Musgraves is above theatrics and chooses to look forward with hope. Whether the listener agrees with anything she says, they have to admit how refreshing and transparent she chooses to be.
“All that I know / Is that you caught me at the right time / Keep me in your glow / ’Cause I’m having such a good time / With you” she opens on the the title track, in appreciation for beauty and novelty. Playing behind “Rainbow”, the pair of tracks features the brightest point in the album, one of the most morose, and the affirmed middle-ground all within the shared 7 minutes. The end of the album doesn’t make you sad but grateful that such an experience was possible. The stripped, reflective chords of “Rainbow” support you in your own radiance: “Let go of your umbrella / ’Cause darilin’, I’m just tryna tell ya / That there’s always been a rainbow / Hangin’ over your head”. Nodding to “Happy & Sad” in its concern for the weather, the track calmly assures that any rain that comes will soon pass and yield a lovely rainbow. In the same way that the figurative rainbow follows the golden hour, the album admires its completion and encourages your own wonderment.
Check out the video for “Rainbow” below:
I can’t say I know much about country music beyond what I’ve caught on bus rides during my high school days. But I’ll say that “Golden Hour” is doing wonderful work. I enjoy every listen and will never forget when I admitted to myself that I loved it. Being from the southwest, this album occupies a similar space in my library as pop-country group Whitney, Pinegrove, and The Mountain Goats. Kacey Musgraves provides witty, confident lyrics behind a dreamy country backdrop. Just the description, itself, sounds cool.
The organic tone to each song carries an element of light-hearted drama that keeps me wanting to hear the next track. Revisiting the work brings me into the same creative space as the last visit, the familiarity supports its critical acclaim. It’s decorated with warmth, vulnerability, and a carefree attitude that encourages karaoke — the ray of light emitting from the album brings out the best in the listener as a musical golden hour.