Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park

kaceymusgraves

Part I: The Background

So apparently Kacey Musgraves has been making music for quite some time. She’s released a number of independent albums over the years, which I’m going to have to see if I can get my hands on at some point since, frankly, I’m a big fan. This is her first album released on a major label, so it’s a debut in some regards. Anyway, Kacey’s a country artist, but she’s known for her very progressive lyrics that have caused a bit of controversy (only because of her genre—her lyrics are actually really tame by normal standards). So I’m going to admit that Kacey was someone I didn’t discover until it was announced that she was going to guest on Brian Wilson’s No Pier Pressure album (this is incidentally also how I became a fan of Lana Del Rey—who didn’t end up making the final cut—and to a lesser extent, She and Him). I expected Kacey to be my least favourite of the three, considering their respective genres and my musical preferences. I was sorely mistaken.

Part II: The Music

Silver Lining: What better way to make a new lifelong fan than to start off right away with something that hits close to home? The brilliance of this song is that it’s not even really about anything specific; the message is that sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. The song has instant appeal to anyone who’s going through… anything, really. Lyrically, the song isn’t all that impressive; Kacey rattles off more clichés than would be stomach-able in a single sitting were it not for the music. I usually let an album run all the way through during the first listen in order to soak it all in. But I wound up repeating this song over and over; just by listening to this song, somehow, everything seemed to start looking a lot brighter. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so moved by such a simple song. It mainly revolves around some acoustic picking backed by this melancholic, spacey note bend that sounds almost reminiscent of Dark Side of the Moon era Pink Floyd. Kacey then starts singing a melody that’s both gloomy and soothing at the same time. And when the chorus kicks in, you don’t just see that silver lining; you’re right up there in the clouds with it. RATING: 10/10

My House: Well, let’s be honest: anything was bound to disappoint after an opener like that. Not that there’s anything wrong with this tune. This ode to mobile homes features lyrics like: “If I can’t bring you to my house, I’ll bring my house to you.” It’s a cute little inoffensive song with a bouncy feel and an accessible melody. The arrangement is a little on the simpler side, but that serves the song well. RATING: 5.5/10

Merry Go Round: Then the album takes a bit of an unexpected turn. Kacey suddenly becomes quite critical. She’s disillusioned with her own way of life here, pointing out all the unpleasantness that lurks beneath the surface in contemporary, rural America: infidelity, drug abuse, and the rigidity of tradition. The heavy subject matter is juxtaposed with the children’s nursery rhyme interpolated during the chorus, only it’s twisted into something much more dark and depressing. Kacey’s at her best lyrically here, with “And just like dust we settle in this town,” being one of the song’s more potent lines. And there’s something sarcastic about the banjo plucking going on in the background. RATING: 10/10

Dandelion: Ah, the descending bass line. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: any song with a chord progression that revolves around a descending bass line is an instant win in my book. But what’s so great about the song writing here is that the song doesn’t just center on that moody musical pattern; it blossoms into something beautiful when we get to the chorus. This is probably one of the best compositions on the album, even if it is just a song about a failed relationship. It’s got this nice ethereal quality to it. RATING: 9/10

Blowin’ Smoke: This one’s got a bit more of a rock edge to it, but it’s the first real miss for me on the album. The music takes a bit of a backseat here as Kacey focuses on her storytelling instead, using a sequence of narratives about individuals who aspire to get themselves out of their respective slumps to call out anyone who has ever declared that they were going to achieve something and then never followed up on it. So while it might be interesting to pay attention to the lyrics here, musically, the song plods along, barely managing to retain interest. RATING: 4/10

I Miss You: The first thing that stood out to me about this song is that it follows a very similar chord progression to Radiohead’s Creep (and by extension, The Hollies’ The Air That I Breathe). And that’s one hell of a chord progression, as far as 4-chord songs go. It’s another heartbreak song, but you might see a trend here of the music overpowering the subject matter. This song would be a pleasure to listen to no matter what it was about. Arrangement-wise, it’s very simple, and very country, but it still manages to have this alternative feel. There’s also a really nice surf-rock-sounding guitar interlude that follows the chorus. RATING: 7.5/10

Step Off: I’ve never really enjoyed these confrontational songs where the singer tries to elevate themselves by touting positivity and all that. Luckily, Kacey doesn’t go too far down the rabbit hole—it’s her scathing wordplay that really makes this one. The titular phrase means something like just back off and leave me alone, that is, until you get to the last line of the chorus and, well, just have a look: “Just keep climbing that mountain of dirty tricks / And when you finally get to the top, step off.” SCORE: 6/10

Back On The Map: So here, Kacey’s looking for a new love to help her get over her past heartbreaks. But the music’s a bit of a drag. The verses build up to the choruses, only for an anti-climax; the choruses are as mellow and laid-back as the verses. That makes the song gloomy and melancholic, when really it should be about hope. Though I guess that does play into the whole idea of being lost and wandering around aimlessly. But basically, it’s a self-pity song, both lyrically and sonically. RATING: 3/10

Keep It To Yourself: All right, this is an interesting take on the same old subject matter. This time, rather than the singer pining over their lost love, the singer is assuming that the lost love still has feelings for them and is advising them not to act on it. Because they’ve already moved on. It’s refreshing in the context of this album. And we also get back on track here musically—the song still floats around the same melancholic bubble, but it’s an aesthetically pleasing bubble. RATING: 6/10

Stupid: Another song with more of a rock vibe too it, only it’s really good this time. Almost anthemic (she’s even got the harmonized “whoa”). It’s also got the stomp-clap rhythm, which it manages to pull off without actually having any stomping or clapping. After reflecting on the pains of love and loss for the majority of the album, Kacey finally comes to the conclusion that love is, well, stupid. But we fall for it every time, because we’re just as stupid. And what did I tell you about descending bass lines? RATING: 7/10

Follow Your Arrow: This should really be the anthem for the 2010s. It’s all about just doing you, no matter what that means. The song points out the paradoxes of modern society, coming to the conclusion that no matter what you do, somebody is going to take issue with it. So the solution? Do whatever the hell you want. And there’s something awesome about a country song that supports homosexuality (and marijuana!). She’s at her most country here musically, juxtaposing the musical style with her progressive lyrics. And when I say she’s at her most country here, I mean that in the best way possible; this also happens to be one of the most solid pieces of song writing on the album. RATING: 10/10

It Is What It Is: I mean, it’s another song about relationships, but the theme of acceptance can be extrapolated here to just life in general. Things are going to get really dark sometimes. Love isn’t going to last. You might think you can make a change, but it’s all just talk. And people are going to judge you, no matter what you choose to do. So all you can really do is accept it all: the good and the bad. But uh, I think I talked way too much about lyrics for this review. Let’s get back to the music. So the album closes with a slower, downbeat, acoustic number. It kind of comes full circle; we’re back to the tentative optimism of the opening track. The same gentle, dreamy atmosphere pervades this last track, making it a great send-off for the album, even if it’s not one of the stronger tracks. RATING: 5.5/10

Part III: The Album

Aesthetic: The production is actually quite stellar, as are the arrangements; each track gets exactly what it needs to let it shine. The title fits in with Kacey’s whole theme of putting a twist on old clichés. The album cover isn’t very interesting, nor is the booklet that comes with it. Are all the cactuses supposed to be symbolic of her rebelliousness (she’s a thorny plant rather than a flower), or is it just an odd design choice that I’m reading too much into? Seriously, there are even cactuses on the CD label. SCORE: 3/5

Artistic Merit: I won’t say that this album is flawless. As I’ve pointed out, a handful of songs seem to cover the same tired ground and lack a certain level of polish and craft. But the rest of the songs reflect the mind of an incredibly talented songwriter putting self-expression before anything else. This is an artist who isn’t afraid to take risks, and that’s kind of what I tend to look for in an artist. SCORE: 3/5

Flow: I wouldn’t say there’s a singular sound here. The album kind of explores the various ranges of musical expression that are possible while working within the confines of such a traditional genre. But that serves to keep things interesting. And the songs blend together well anyway—the only jarring moment on the album is Blowin’ Smoke. And whoever sequenced this album had the foresight not to bog down the listener with more than one moody heartbreak song in a row. SCORE: 6/10

CLOSING REMARKS: Kacey’s a very promising artist. I was hooked from the very first note of track one. The rest of the album may not have lived up to that, but that’s just because the bar was really set that high. Again, there are earlier albums that I haven’t heard, but for an album that is for all intents and purposes a debut album, this is really good. This album would probably be one of my go-to’s if I had to argue the case that people are still making good music these days.

FINAL SCORE: 68

 

 

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