A new Kacey is in town
Six must be Kacey Musgraves’ lucky number: In September, years after winning his sixth Grammy Award, the country singer-songwriter released his sixth studio album, cross of stars. With two of her past records being songbooks for Christmas and the other ruminations on small town life and falling in love, damn takes a sharp turn from its usual subject. Inspired by the failure of her three-year marriage, Musgraves’ most recent album explores new musical and emotional lands.
The songs on the record follow her divorce chronologically, opening up to theatrical vocals in the first track, “star-crossed”. Musgraves layers his vocals on top of himself to create the effect of a gospel chorus, which is then accompanied by a stylistically Spanish guitar pinch – the stage is set for the story of grief, the Western way. “Let me set the scene,” Musgraves sings. “Two lovers torn at the seams.” Eerie synth melodies creep into her voice, both intriguing and frightening to listeners as to what’s to come in the next few songs. It is obvious from the first 30 seconds that this album is a departure from his past.
Although it is usually accompanied only by a strumming guitar, piano, and lively drums, damn introduces electronic melodies and auto-tuning. In songs such as “good wife” and “if this were a movie ..”, Musgraves heavily distorts his voice and implements alien synths. These effects give his sound a darker, more dimensional feel – a stark contrast to the sunny love songs on his 2018 album, Golden hour. The haunting gloom isn’t the only new sound Musgraves is experimenting with. She runs with the tropes of Western romance, implementing more Spanish-style guitar in “simple times” and singing in Spanish in her latest track, “gracias a la vida”. In “angel”, artificial thunderclaps in the background of the mysterious song place the listener in the middle of the storm, both literally and metaphorically.
One of the strongest aspects of damn are Musgraves’ storytelling abilities. From start to finish, the songs on the record track down feelings of devotion (“good wife”) and longing (“simple times”) to uncertainty (“justified”) and loneliness (“branching scene”) . Although at times simple and cliché, Musgraves’ lyrics display a sense of emotional honesty and maturity that helps listeners understand the fullness of his grief. “If it was a movie, love would be enough,” she sings, “to save us from the darkness that is within both of us.” Not only does Musgraves tell stories through her lyrics, but she also gives wise advice from the lessons she’s learned along the way. “Stay away from a boy like that,” she warns on “breadwinner,” “not all of his injuries are an excuse to put up with the way he treats you.” On the “sex scene”, Musgraves sends a mixed message: to hold your relationships, because “you might not even know you didn’t have it that bad.”
Musgraves’ musical and emotional growth is evident in cross of stars. His consistency in writing and producing songs amazes. His experimentation with more modern musical techniques is an interesting release from his past music – a symbol of his departure from his marriage and marriage. Not only is his sound more complex on the album, but so is his emotional capacity. Through contrasting points of view and raw lyrics, Musgraves displays an emotional intelligence far beyond that of the naive small town girl in his past records. The album’s closing track, “gracias a la vida,” is a cover of Chilean singer-songwriter Violeta Parra’s ballad of giving thanks for life’s experiences. In a language other than his own, Musgraves sings “gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.” Me ha dado la risa, me ha dado el llanto ”-“ Thank you to life, which has given me so much. It made me laugh and it made me want to. With this closing statement, Musgraves shows that she has come to terms with the trials of her divorce – like all experiences in life, it is an experience to grow and learn. And if you are Kacey Musgraves, this is a perfect material to compose an album around.
The artistic editor of the daily Bella Greenbacher can be contacted at [email protected].