Kacey Musgraves' 'Golden Hour' may be 2018's best album yet
Kacey Musgraves believes in magic — and wants to teach you how, too.
There’s something supernatural about the country singer’s third release, Golden Hour, which finds the singer achieving the nirvana she’s sought over the course of her previous two albums: 2013 breakout debut Same Trailer Different Park, and its swaggering follow-up, Pageant Material. Musgraves has been hailed as a boundary-breaking personality in her genre, referencing queer love and smoking weed as she’s embarked on the classic country-music saga of encountering love and loss in a tiny town.
Golden Hour references that last hour of the day, when everything seems bathed in light. And much as the title suggests, Musgraves’ new album finds the singer largely at peace with herself, her relationships and her surroundings, articulated over the course of 13 plain-spoken tracks. Musgraves’ music is country by definition, but like so many of her generation’s other musical innovators, she shrugs at the idea of genre boundaries, alternating piano ballads with lightly twangy folk-pop and even flirting with disco-lite on the album standout High Horse. Yet, it’s Musgraves’ voice that anchors Golden Hour in country traditions, her Texas attributes ringing clear as she handles each note as delicately as glass.
Golden Hour is Musgraves’ first release since marrying singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly last year, and the album finds her in a perpetual swoon, not just over love, but the entire world that surrounds her new life. Nearly every track invokes some kind of natural wonder; the northern lights; a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis; flowers growing from concrete and blooming in shadows; a rainbow beaming above. On the psych-folk of Oh, What A World, she meditates on the “all kinds of magic around us,” before marveling at the “magic in your fingertips” in Love Is a Wild Thing and the “little magic” she finds in her Velvet Elvis, which comes less from lazy songwriting and more from Musgraves’ commitment to the purity of her emotions. If she’s feeling magical, she’s going to say so.
Perhaps that’s why the moments on Golden Hour in which she slips out of her reverie and lets the melancholy creep in, are such a gut-punch. Space Cowboy, a simply-sung farewell to a love that’s run its course, is one of Musgraves' finest works to date, and Mother, a brief snippet of a song about missing your mom, sticks with you longer than its minute-and-20-seconds runtime.
It's an oft-repeated idea that musicians create better art out of heartbreak and tumult than domestic bliss. And yet, Golden Hour finds Musgraves in a sun-dappled stage of her life, and it still manages to be a wondrous collection of songs about, as always, love and loss in a tiny town. Some fans may miss the bad-girl, rabble-rousing persona Musgraves has portrayed on her previous albums, but that doesn't mean she's gone forever. Perhaps, on Golden Hour, she's just taking advantage of that brief, cosmic moment when the light is perfect.