Though she's offered fleeting glimpses into her personal life before, Kacey Musgraves' fourth major studio album, Golden Hour, finds her at her most personal, autobiographical, thoughtful and vulnerable. On previous albums, the Grammy-winning Musgraves captivated audiences with her sharp-witted storytellers about small-town life, hypocrisy and good old fashioned gossip. But here, she ditches looking out the windows and narrating the lives of others and takes a long look in the mirror.
As she mentions in Golden Hour's liner notes, "there are different masks we all wear that represent different sides of ourselves. None of them are solely us and yet they all are." Throughout, she displays the many shades of Kacey Musgraves -- even when they're not highlighting the most glorious aspects of life.
Sure. There's plenty of moments where Musgraves delivers the highs and beauty of love and life -- namely on songs such as "Slow Burn," "Butterflies" and "Love Is a Wild Thing." But, she doesn't attempt to sweep the lows underneath the rug either. Songs like "Lonely Weekend" and "Happy & Sad" are just that, lonely and sad. She acknowledges that they too are universal emotions worth writing about. It's a side of Musgraves we've rarely seen. She's vulnerable, yet displays a maturing sense of resilience.
In many respects, Musgraves is the voice of a generation. She has her pulse on what concerns modern society and what makes modern culture tick. This is simply because she's honest and true with herself. The things that keep her up at night or create anxiety and unsureness are the same that worry the average human being. Musgraves is just confident enough to speak on it.
Sonically, Musgraves continues to morph and progressive. Rather than delve back into traditional country roots, Musgraves takes a turn on Golden Hour, opting for a heavenly palette of pastel colors, bright displays of dream-pop arrangements, and disco-infused dancehall numbers.
While some will see this as a sharp turn or straight abandonment of country music lore, Musgraves has never shied away from other influential sounds. In previous years, she's collaborated with legendary Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson ("Guess You Had To Be There" on No Pier Pressure) and r&b vocalist Miguel ("waves [Remix]" on Rogue Waves). Later this year, her cover of Elton John's "Roy Rogers" will be featured on the John & Bernie Taupin tribute album Revamp & Restoration: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
After previously working with Shane McAnally and Luke Laird on Same Trailer Different Park and Pageant Material, Musgraves recruited Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk to work on Golden Hour (McAnally and Laird do still contribute a couple co-writes). The trio of Musgraves, Tashian and Fitchuk co-wrote the majority of the album and produced the gorgeous album, something Musgraves dubbed as "futurism meets traditionalism."
Below, we guide you through the 13 songs on Musgraves' elegant, revealing and ever relevant Golden Hour.
1. "Slow Burn"
- With the opening lines "born in a hurry, always late. Haven't been early since '88," Musgraves kicks Golden Hour off with one of her most personal songs to date. On a recent Instagram post, Musgraves called the opener "one of [her] most autobiographical songs" saying that she was born six weeks early and under five pounds.
- "Slow Burn" sets the tone for the album. Rather than embarking on a trek through small-town life, gossip and hypocrisy, Musgraves delivers her most introspective collection of material. While there's certainly a romantic and love song characteristics, "Slow Burn" is primarily about appreciating the smaller and finer aspects of life. Throughout Golden Hour, she comes back to this concept, namely in "Lonely Weekend," "Oh What a World" and "Happy & Sad."
- Most notably, "Slow Burn" cherry picks the line "Grandma cried when I pierced my nose. I never liked doing what I was told" from the unrecorded song "John Prine." Musgraves and Prine have since collaborated on Prine's 2016 duets album For Better, or Worse, singing the song "Mental Cruelty."
- In some respects, "Grandma cried" is a callback to the line "and my mama cried when she realized I ain't pageant material" from "Pageant Material." Both serve the purpose of displaying Musgraves following her own path and straying away from the pack.
2. "Lonely Weekend"
- With the lines "I keep lookin' at my phone, putting it back down. There's a little part of me that's got the fear of missing out," Musgraves captures the highs and lows of modern society and a social media obsessed culture. The line cuts both ways though. On one side, Musgraves means the fear of missing out on what's happening on a macro level -- global interactions, news and trends. On the other side, there's the aspect of missing out on what's happening right in front of you due to your phone being a distraction.
- Musgraves taps into real anxieties, insecurities and inferiority complexes that can be brought on by social media. The "Fear of Missing Out" is a genuine panic and doubt that can be spurred by being addicted to social media. She hints at this on "Happy & Sad" as well with the lines "so is there a way to stop all this thinking, just keep on drinking? Cause I don't wanna wake up when they're turning the lights on and it turns out the joke's on me."
- "Butterflies" was written by Musgraves with Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird. It marks as the first of three Musgraves wrote with Hemby on Golden Hour, the others being "Velvet Elvis" and the album closer "Rainbow." Musgraves, Hemby and Laird previously collaborated with "Good Ol' Boys Club" from Musgraves' Pageant Material.
- Musgraves says she wrote the airy and bubbly "Butterflies" a week after meeting Ruston Kelly, whom she married this past October. Much of Golden Hour occupies the space around the meeting, dating and eventual marriage to Kelly. Their relationship seems to have had the largest impact on Musgraves' writing.
- "Butterflies" and "Space Cowboy" were the first two singles released by Musgraves. In many respects, they work together due to their juxtaposed commentary on relationships. Where "Butterflies" highlights falling in love -- even in a young puppy love kind of way -- "Space Cowboy" narrated the breaking up phase where both parties know it's over.
- Musgraves uses the line "stealing my heart instead of stealing my crown" in the chorus of "Butterflies." It's not the first time she's used crown imagery to relay a point, namely in Pageant Material.
4. "Oh What a World"
- "Oh What A World" is really the first moment on Golden Hour that goes fully into dreamy electronic territory. It sets off with the Daft Punk-esque intro with the prominent use of the vocoder. Still, there are country touchstones like pedal steel and banjo.
- As mentioned on Musgraves' Instagram, "Oh What a World" was the first song written for Golden Hour. She says it set the sonic pathway she decided to chase.
- As mentioned previously, Golden Hour is Musgraves most intimate and personal set of songs to date. Still, the imprints of the world and universe at large are on full display on the album. She may be looking speaking on the specifics of her own life and using an internal dialogue, but she also has a well-rounded view of the world. She speaks about reincarnation ("Did I know you once in another life? Are we here just once or a billion times?") and uses the word magic to represent the many unexplained questions in the universe.
- In Billboard, Musgraves expanded on how she's matured and grown since graduating high school and moving out of her hometown. While songs such as "Follow Your Arrow" and "Biscuits" have become anthems for social injustices in the past and shed light on Musgraves' astute perspective, Golden Hour's "Oh What a World," "Slow Burn" and "Love Is a Wild Thing" also shed a light on her open-mindedness.
- Musgraves has said that "Mother" was written while on LSD. It's the shortest song on Golden Hour (and written in about 15 minutes), but Musgraves cites the song as maybe being the most meaningful. Musgraves' recreational drug use has long been referenced in her songs, namely marijuana in songs such as "Follow Your Arrow," "High Time" and "Dime Store Cowgirl," it's never been as inspiring or influential to her songwriting process.
- She sings "I'm just sitting here thinking about the time that's slipping" on "Mother." That overwhelming flood of mixed emotions is one of the central themes of Golden Hour. Here on "Mother" and later on "Happy & Sad," Musgraves uses images of her crying to capture the mood and feel of those raw emotions.
6. "Love Is a Wild Thing"
- One of Golden Hours' underlying motifs is the use nature imagery. Here, she uses the lush chorus of "Running like a river trying to find the ocean, flowers in the concrete. Climbing over fences, blooming in the shadows, places that you can't see, coming through the melody when the night bird sings, love is a wild thing" to display how grand and mysterious nature is -- with love perhaps being the most natural, yet unexplainable emotion.
- On other songs such as "Butterflies," "Oh What a World" and "Rainbow," Musgraves uses language to harken nature imagery. Still, she often ("Love Is a Wild Thing," "Oh What a World" and "Velvet Elvis") uses magical properties to try and describe what love is.
7. "Space Cowboy"
- "Space Cowboy" was written by Musgraves with long-time collaborators Luke Laird and Shane McAnally. So far, Musgraves and Laird have written 15 songs recorded by Musgraves, including "Blowin' Smoke," "Dime Store Cowgirl" and "Pageant Material." Here, they wrote two --"Space Cowboy" and "Butterflies."
- While "Space Cowboy" plays an incredibly pivotal point in Golden Hour's lush and dreamlike quality, along with "High Horse," it's the song that's most like previous Musgraves material. That can mainly be attributed to Musgraves' clever wordplay and use of timeless country tropes. What makes "Space Cowboy's" language sharp and keen rather than tired or kitschy, is her turn on these well-known idioms. The simplest example of this is found just in the timely exhale between space and cowboy.
- For most of Golden Hour, Musgraves is looking forward. But with "Space Cowboy," she looks back on the past. It's an essential piece of the puzzle. There's certainly some truth to the line "when a horse wants to run, there ain't no sense in closing the gate," in many respects, "Space Cowboy" is closing the gate to that period in her life and moving on.
8. "Happy & Sad"
- Though Musgraves hints at having anxiety attacks, mini-existential crisis moments and surreal junctures throughout Golden Hour, "Happy & Sad" is her tackling them head-on. Here, she highlights the fears of a good time passing too quickly by. In some respects, she's talking about chronophobia -- the anxiety of the passage of time. Rather than being able to fully enjoy, if you will, these golden hours, Musgraves captures the raw emotions of knowing they too will end at some point.
- On "Lonely Weekend," and specifically on "Slow Burn" and "Mother," Musgraves talks about wanting to slow down time and fully appreciate these cherished and magical moments. She's keenly self-aware of these emotions.
9. "Velvet Elvis"
- "Velvet Elvis" is yet again, another warm and shimmering love song inspired by Kelly. Here, Musgraves is as affectioniate and charmingly sappy. Like "Butterflies," she displays a fun-loving spirit about her relationship with Kelly. It helps lighten the mood and balance out heavier love ballads such as "Golden Hour."
- "Velvet Elvis was co-written by Musgraves, Natalie Hemby and Luke Dick (Eric Church, Kip Moore).
10. "Wonder Woman"
- "Wonder Woman" is one of three songs on Golden Hour that has references to films, with the others being "Space Cowboy" and "High Horse." On each, she brings up these references to Hollywood ("There's a reason why you only see it in the movies," "Oh, I bet you think you're John Wayne," and "Shoulda learned from the movies that good guys don't run away") as a way compare the falsehood of fantasies they've grown into believing and the blunt realities of the situation.
- "Wonder Woman" was written by Musgraves, Jesse Frasure, Hillary Lindsey and Amy Wadge. It marks as the first recorded collaboration between Musgraves and Frasure (Gary Allan, Jon Pardi), Lindsey (Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood) and Wadge (Ed Sheeran, Kylie Minogue).
11. "High Horse"
- "High Horse" is the pinnacle of Musgraves' lush and layered Space Country and dreamy disco-tinged bedroom pop. She fully embraces the pastel sonic palette with the Bee Gees-influenced number. It's armed with a Chic-esque R&B funk bass line that pushes Musgraves into new territory. Still, "High Horse" is vintage Musgraves from a lyrical standpoint. "High Horse" and "Space Cowboy" are in many respects, Musgraves' most progressive standouts musically. But what she does, is give fans who may be apprehensive about her new sonic stylings something that reminds them of the old Musgraves.
- "High Horse" follows up singalong staples such as "Step Off" "This Town," and "Biscuits" that highlight Musgraves' sharp sense of humor and keen observations. Here, she sets her sights on the local narcissist who needs to be knocked down a peg or two.
- "High Horse" was written by Musgraves with Trent Dabbs (Ashley Monroe, Natalie Hemby) and Tommy English. It's the first song co-written by the trio that's been recorded by Musgraves.
12. "Golden Hour"
- On the title track, Musgraves flips the narrative of "Happy & Sad's" uneasiness and jumbled emotions. Here, she's back to singing about the magic of love and a healthy relationship. Much like "Rainbow" after it, Musgraves is comforted by positive thoughts and an understanding that things will work out.
- On the liner notes of Golden Hour, Musgraves says "There we were in the middle of making this record and a total solar eclipse darkened Nashville on my birthday. My 29th year. A golden hour in my young-adult life. There are certain junctures that you can't think your way through -- you just have to feel. I found myself at one making this album. It was like the Universe was majestically saying 'this is a time to be present, to witness the beauty of this incredible world you are lucky to be alive in' despite it being more complicated than ever and filled with so much darkness."
- Musgraves uses the word glow in three instances on Golden Hour, specifically on "Golden Hour," Happy & Sad" and "Oh What a World." While "Oh What a World," "Velvet Elvis" and "High Horse" is Musgraves delivering high energy disco and electronica-infused numbers, the majority of Golden Hour is more reserved. As personal and introspective Golden Hour is, the majoriy of its sonic palette resembles that of a glowing dream pop album filled with lush arrangements and bright, warm chamber-pop asthetics.
- Musgraves wrote "Rainbow" with Shane McAnally and Natalie Hemby. Much like Liard, McAnally and Musgraves have collaborated for much of Musgraves' career, having co-produced Same Trailer Different Park and Pageant Material. So far, McAnally and Musgraves have co-written 22 songs, namely "Merry Go 'Round," "Follow Your Arrow" and "Biscuits." On Golden Hour, they co-wrote "Rainbow and the aforementioned "Space Cowboy."
- On the Golden Hour's closing statements, Musgraves takes a step back and delivers an emotionally charged piano ballad. Much like she starts out on "Slow Burn," there's a sense of reassurance and resilience found on "Rainbow." While there's plenty of storms narrated on Golden Hour, "Rainbow" is a much-needed pat on the back. Musgraves elegantly closes the album simply with the line "it'll all be alright."