In February, when Kacey Musgraves offered a preview of two songs from her forthcoming album, Golden Hour, longtime fans quickly figured out that a change was in the air. The songs, “Butterflies” and “Space Cowboy,” didn’t sound much like any Musgraves tracks we’d heard before. Though there was some twang lurking in each of them, there was a lot more pop in her pop-country synthesis—and, on “Butterflies,” a complete lack of the sort of irony that’s been her stock-in-trade since she released her debut album Same Trailer, Different Park five years ago. Instead, the Golden native sounded, well, happy—the result, apparently, of her recent marriage to fellow musician Ruston Kelly.
But would what was good for Kacey Musgraves be good for her music? Sure, a head-over-heels-in-love Musgraves could knock out a couple of terrific songs. But misery and dread are fuel to a songwriter—the list of artists who stopped making great music after they’d finally achieved strived-for success is too long to contemplate. Could Happy Kacey Musgraves create an entire album that avoided that trap?
As it turns out, yes, she could. On March 23 she previewed a third Golden Hour song, “High Horse,” an exhilarating, disco-inflected kiss-off to an unnamed toxic man that made it clear that the newly buoyant Musgraves 2.0 was more in control of her career and her aesthetic than ever before.
And then, on March 30, Golden Hour was finally released—and all of us Kacey Musgraves fans at Texas Monthly were reminded of what it’s like to fall head-over-heels in love. Since our office Slack channels have been filled for the past week with dazed testimonials to what we adore about Musgraves’s album, we thought we might as well share our feelings—and, really, this album is all about the feels—with the rest of the world. So here’s our only-mildly-embarrassing list of 25 Things We Love About Golden Hour. Honestly, it wouldn’t have been that tough to come up with 50.
- That it’s LP length, not CD length—thirteen songs, 45 minutes, all killer, no filler, from this Texan-turned-Nashviller.
- That happy Kacey Musgraves is even better than wiseass Kacey Musgraves.
- That it’s so sparely produced that even the tiniest gestures make a big impression. Like that modest breakbeat at the 1:27-1:28 mark on “Butterflies.”
- Actually, we could listen to the the snare drum on “Butterflies” for days.
- The vocoder on “Oh, What a World,” which may be the first song—definitely the first song we’ve ever adored—that features a vocoder and a banjo.
- The countless times she bends notes as only a self-proclaimed “yodeler from way back” can. Check out her flattened pitch on “man” at the 1:01 mark of “Velvet Elvis,” on “tie up” at the 1:23 mark on “Rainbow,” and again and again throughout “Butterflies.”
- The horse-hoof clap of percussion and slide of pedal steel that follow every mention of her “Velvet Elvis” and the quick little exhale from a Hammond organ that gets added later in the chorus.
- That we never thought of owning a velvet Elvis painting until she sang a song comparing the love of her life to one, and now we’re ready to plunk down cold hard cash on plane tickets to Memphis so we can scour the flea markets as soon as we post this list.
- That the swooning romantic songs and the kissoff songs don’t conflict with each other—they sound like they’re coming from the same, newly confident woman, who’s figured out who she wants to share her life with and who she doesn’t.
- That she’s so confident about what she’s doing that she decided to leave a 1:18 song fragment as a song fragment, and didn’t let anyone convince her that she needed to write a chorus or commission an arrangement. It’s just her voice and her piano and a heartfelt plea about being on the road and missing her mom.
- That the song fragment in question, “Mother,” is one of the best things on an album full of best things.
- That she wrote “Mother” while tripping on acid, and wasn’t shy about saying so on Twitter.
- That, actually, her Twitter promo game for this album has been top-notch all around.
- That the “lyric video” for “High Horse” is the best lyric video we’ve ever seen.
- That she managed to write a song about having butterflies in her stomach without letting it sound like a cliché.
- The restrained disco production on “High Horse,” especially the Arif Mardin-style strings.
- “I bet you think you’re first place/Yeah, someone should give you a ribbon/And put you in the Hall of Fame/For all the games that you think that you’re winnin’.” Ouch.
- That a certain fifth grader of our acquaintance says that “all the kids” at her Austin elementary school are singing “High Horse” in the hallways.
- That it makes Same Trailer, Different Park and Pageant Material, which we like plenty, suddenly sound a little corny.
- That “Space Cowboy” isn’t just a sly riff on her fellow Texan Steve Miller’s 1969 song of the same name, it’s a masterclass in songwriting. Instead of shying away from long-standing country tropes—trucks, boots, and horses—she leans into them and inverts them. In all three cases, they’re not symbols of tradition or freedom—they’re what she hopes the unwanted man in her life will be driving, wearing, or riding when he gets away from her as quickly as possible.
- That “Space Cowboy” was inspired by her horse, Mismo. Who said this isn’t a country album?
- That she’s taken Texas-born alt-country-disco-pop worldwide, which is where it belongs: “High Horse” is on the charts in Japan, the album is top ten in the U.K., and she has two tracks on Spotify’s “Global Viral 50” chart.
- That she makes yacht-rock sound hip all over again for the very first time.
- That her sweet meditations on love and light have chipped away at the ice surrounding our cold, cold hearts and inspired us to feel, oh, what is the word for the way that we feel when we’re listening to this album—happy and sad at the same time?
- Most of all, that between now and December we won’t have to waste any more time or energy trying to decide what the best Texas album of 2018 is.
- (Unless Beyoncé drops a new record, of course.)