Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour

Much has been written about the influence of drugs on popular music, from the effects of LSD on The Beatles to the role lean may have played in Future’s transformation into a glassy-eyed hedonist. But no substance has ever affected a musician the way falling in love does. Like ecstasy, it filters out cynicism. Like weed, it slows everything down. Like heroin, it makes you sick when it’s gone. Love is artistic steroids. And ladies and gentlemen, Kacey Musgraves is juicing.

“Oh what a world / Don’t wanna leave / There’s all kinds of magic / It’s hard to believe,” sings the Texas singer/songwriter on one of the many standout love songs that form the spine of her nearly flawless third album, Golden Hour. For all its grandiosity, the song – “Oh What a World” – never feels the least bit trite. Because Musgraves has no time for sunsets. The “magic” she feels is like seeing the Aurora Borealis, or a sea creature that emits an otherworldly neon glow. “These are real things,” she marvels.

Golden Hour is largely about these “real things.” In fact, its songwriting is so focused, it makes me realize how so many of our idioms for romance have to do with not seeing straight, or losing our balance. Clichéd love makes us “starry-eyed.” It “knocks us off our feet.” It makes us “crazy about” someone. Musgraves approaches the subject from a variety of angles, from the lovely ache of missing someone to the frightening joy of trusting them. And her vision never blurs. “I used to be scared of the wilderness, of the dark,” she sings. “But not anymore.”

This clarity is also evident in the production choices made by Musgraves and collaborators Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian. It’s based in the honeyed pop-country gloss that defined her first two records – banjos are little more than signifiers, fiddles play second fiddle – but takes some exhilarating liberties. “High Horse” is a swirling disco anthem that feels like a friendly gauntlet thrown to Kylie Minogue, whose new Nashville-produced album also just came out (in a further bit of kismet, it’s called Golden). “Oh What a World” weaves a chorus of robotic voices into its National Geographic expedition. “Slow Burn” introduces a string motif that waxes and wanes like something off of Beck’s Sea Change album.

Yet for all its immaculate sonic details and instant-classic turns of phrase – e.g. “You can have your space, cowboy” – Golden Hour is great because it has good timing on its side. Kacey Musgraves is at her peak as an artist, and also happens to be going through a kaleidoscopically life-changing experience. The moment that moves me the most might be the simplest and most straightforward of them all. It’s the very last line of the album, on the piano ballad “Rainbow.” The band drops away, and it’s just Musgraves, at her piano, telling her love the one thing we all want to hear: “It’ll all be alright.”

The Top 10 Beatles Songs, by Franz List

Hello world. My name is Franz List. I shove opinions at you in list form. Ah, my lists. My lists my lists my lists. My lovely lady lists.

My maiden list for this blog is supremely ridiculous – listing the 10 greatest Beatles songs of all time, in order of greatestness. Got a problem with that? Well, so did your mom.

10.”When I’m Sixty-Four” (1967, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
Paul McCartney has been known to get a little schmaltzy at times. But he remains the king of homespun romantic pop, with this being the finest example. Celebrating the joys of spending your life with one person, from reassuring routines to seaside vacations and time with the grandkids, “When I’m Sixty-Four” is a sweet slice of domestic bliss, a splash of bouncing piano and sprightly woodwinds amongst the clamor and ambition of The Beatles’ most celebrated album. Making it not only timeless, but brave.

9. “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party” (1964, Beatles For Sale)
Of all the early Beatles songs in which they pretend to be shy, doe-eyed doormats, this one’s the most fun. As the light rockabilly beat saunters underneath, John Lennon sings with conviction about a girl who’s made him sad. He’s gotta leave the party he’s at for the sake of the other party-goers – they’d get sick of his mopey ass right quick. Then comes the chorus. The acoustic guitar chords ring full and true, and Lennon revels in the power of his puppy love – “I still love her!”

8. “Here Comes the Sun” (1969, Abbey Road)
I’m sure George Harrison’s crowning moment as a Beatle was like, all metaphorical and stuff, but it’s magical when you take it literally. Everybody who has lived through a winter knows how it feels when spring rushes in. It’s easier to wake up in the morning; you feel part of the world again; a new life force swells up inside you; you start humming for no reason – and it’s probably this song’s simple, hopeful melody. A shout out to the majesty of all new beginnings, and a weather forecast for the soul, “Here Comes the Sun’s” gorgeously picked guitar licks and “it’s all right” refrain are more therapeutic than any collection of nature sounds.

7. It’s Only Love (1965, Help!)
This ode to the ache of young love gone wrong finds Lennon exploring the poetry of passed notes (“When you sigh, my insides just fly”), peeking into the ensuing relationship’s demise, and delivering a chorus that brilliantly depicts a man trying to pass off his feelings as so much rubbish – all over the course of a handful of brief stanzas. The lead guitar and vocal melodies are precursors to the grand “In My Life,” making this song’s earnest simplicity all the sweeter.

6. I Should Have Known Better (1964, A Hard Day’s Night)
As earth-shattering as the band’s later experiments could be, they were bereft of the pure joy and rambunctious innocence of its early days. And this track is the supreme distillation of that magic, two minutes and 44 seconds of ingratiating chord changes, raw rock vocals, fluttering harmonicas and 2+2=4 lyrics about falling in love unexpectedly. Running through it all is the Beatles’ irrepressible energy, that intangible quality that made the quartet truly fab.

5. Mother Nature’s Son (1968, The Beatles [White Album])
Among countless other hyperbolic statements made about the Beatles include comparisons to Beethoven and Mozart. And while that’s pretty silly, the band’s ability to evoke moods, tensions and releases does deserve such lofty talk. McCartney’s obsession with English rusticity resulted in this White Album cut, and its mix of tenderly picked acoustic guitars, tastefully arranged brass and down-home bass drum smacking elicits as strong a visual of the rolling countryside as Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Catchy, organic and optimistic, this is the Cute One at the top of his game.

4. For No One (1966, Revolver)
Has Paul McCartney ever been dumped? This song would make you think so. As much for its self-absorbed melancholy as for its stunning instrumental flourishes, “For No One” is unforgettable. The lyrics cut to the quick of why rejection sucks – she no longer needs the narrator; there’s “no sign of love” in her countenance. Couple that with descending piano chords, McCartney’s sentimental vocal and a lovely French horn solo, and you have what might be the prettiest relationship death knell ever laid to tape.

3. Because (1969, Abbey Road)
If the Beatles ever wrote a hymn, this is it. Driven by a basic lyrical construction from Lennon, “Because” celebrates the mysteries of the natural world, and the overwhelming effect they have on the mind, body and soul. Adding to this solemn, spiritual vibe is the most astounding vocal showcase the band had ever mustered – layering the voices of Lennon, McCartney and Harrison in triplicate, delivering every note in glorious nine-part harmony. It’s the kind of sound that makes you want to believe in something more.

2. I’ll Be Back (1964, A Hard Day’s Night)
The final track on A Hard Day’s Night was a beacon. Starkly different from the boisterous covers that closed out the first two Beatles records, “I’ll Be Back” was a dark, Latin-tinged Lennon original. Shifting from major to minor keys in a bold, haunting way, and without a chorus to speak of, the song marked an evolution from the fun mop-toppery of yore to the mesmerizing experiments to come. And no matter the context, the melody is enchanting, John’s seemingly effortless, subdued vocal the work of a master hypnotist.

1. I Want You (She’s So Heavy) (1969, Abbey Road)
The Beatles have been called many things, but “sexy” usually isn’t one of them. Which makes the wild, slithering opus “I Want You” all the more irresistible. Here you’ll find everything that makes this band timeless – a deep appreciation for early rock and R&B; a deeper desire to break the rules of those genres; utter mastery of recording techniques; the ability to take the simplest of statements and turn it into transcendent poetry – dished out with a primality they’d never before explored. Full of sensuous soul grooves, screaming B3 solos, a lustful mantra and a cacophonous, extended outro that cuts out like the plug’s been pulled, the seven-plus minute track is rooted both in the simplicity of the past and the anything-goes mentality of the time it was recorded. It’s the ingenious, aphrodisiac-ridden cousin of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and the band’s finest moment.

George and Ringo saved by copyright law

This week, American Idol did a Beatles-themed night, which they called “Lennon/McCartney Songbook Week.” I’m guessing they weren’t allowed to say “The Beatles” for legal reasons, which protected “Something,” “Octopus’s Garden,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “I Want To Tell You” and other George and Ringo-penned classics from getting the amateur karaoke treatment. Even so, I’d rather watch The Apple Dumpling Gang on a loop than watch those jerks crap on a legacy. Well, watching The Apple Dumpling Gang sounds kinda fun, actually. Don Knotts is straight gangsta.