Kacey Musgraves just got married and she equates the feeling to the fading high of marijuana. At least, that’s how it comes off on her newest album, Golden Hour. The 29-year-old Texan’s album title comes from the time following sunset where the sun is down but it’s not quite night. That moment, that fading high, pervades the Country singer-songwriter’s latest work as she continues to defy the role of the typical female country star.
On her third full length album, Kacey Musgraves updates the iconic sounds of ‘70s, ‘90s, and early ‘00s Country music using a blend of old and modern instrumentation. On the track, “Butterflies,” Musgraves uses synths with a distinctive country twang to twist the instrument to fit the genre. This subtle touch gives the track the added flare it needed. At other times, Musgraves uses modern sounds in a black and white manner. The Daft Punk-esque vocoder at the beginning of “Oh, What a World” feels jarring at first, but Musgraves expertly uses the robotic voice to set up the emotion of the song. Later in the track she blends the vocoder with well placed banjo plucking, an unexpected combination that manages to perfectly fuse Americana and Futurism.
Using blends of different instruments throughout the tracks also allows Kacey Musgraves to blur the lines between different genres. On the first two tracks, “Slow Burn” and “Lonely Weekend,” Musgraves comes off as more Adult Contemporary than Country, sounding more like Sheryl Crow or John Mayer. Tracks like “Velvet Elvis” and “Golden Hour” could be considered more Americana than Country. She also dares to show off influences well outside the Country genre on “High Horse.” The track’s disco and electronic sounds are imbued with the spirit of Tame Impala. Musgraves makes bold moves and these moves are paid off, showing that she is a well traveled artist.
Lyrically, Musgraves and her team are setting out to change the perception of typical country songs. Musgraves spends much of the album writing about situations and emotions leading up to a married life. She chronicles these different situations throughout the project, from early love in “Butterflies,” to the acceptance of a broken relationship in “Space Cowboy.” Musgraves gets more specific in tracks like “Wonder Woman”, where she opens up about not being perfect partner and it should be accepted because she doesn’t expect her husband to be the perfect partner either. Musgraves also touches on her relationship with her Mother on the simply titled ballad “Mother.” In the chorus she sings, “wish we didn’t live so far from each other, I’m just sitting here thinking ’bout the time that’s slipping, And missing my mother,” realizing the importance of the passage of time and the mortality of life.
What makes Golden Hour an album that will be critically acclaimed and sets her apart from other artists, also keeps her from being Country radio friendly. By flirting with different genres, she makes music that doesn’t all fit on one radio station. A track like “High Horse” would belong on Top 40 Pop Radio, but tracks like “Slow Burn” and “Love is a Wild Thing” belong on Country Radio. Even “Lonely Weekend” sounds like it belongs on an Adult Contemporary station. However in the modern digital age, blending genres also allows her the ability to gain a new following that might be outside of the normal Country scope.
Golden Hour’s 13 tracks give it a short run time, clocking in at 46 minutes. Musgraves keeps the show moving from upbeat song to ballad and back, but she does have moments that are forgettable. Songs like “Happy & Sad” and the title track “Golden Hour” do little to set themselves apart from the other songs, blending in to the album’s overall sound.
Kacey Musgraves manages to wrap all 13 of these tracks into a blissful record that serves a snapshot into this moment of her life. Settle in, watch the sunset, and feel the high fade away.