The 13 best songs on Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour

How did this gorgeous new album make us emotional? Let us count the ways.

Photographer Ana Cuba
March 30, 2018
1. “Slow Burn”

When I get overwhelmed, which is often, I try to get my brain to play tricks on itself. I repeat little factoids-as-mantra that put my small, inconsequential life in the context of our planet and its billions of people. From now on, when those moments strike, I will borrow this perspective-shifting thought from Golden Hour’s gentle, quietly transformative opener, and savor the slow burn: “In Tennessee, the sun's goin' down / But in Beijing, they're heading out to work.” Kacey’s right, ultimately; nothing’s that deep, so “take your time, let the world turn.” — Rawiya Kameir

2. “Lonely Weekend”

“Lonely Weekend” is welcome addition to the canon of songs where the artist lists the days of the week in chronological order. But, more than standing up as a piece of music next to “Saturday Love” and “Seven Days,” the second track on Golden Hour is about the maze-like mind game of enjoying your own company. “Guess everybody else is out tonight / Guess I’m hangin’ by myself but I don’t mind,” Kacey Musgraves sings in the chorus, later admitting, “I keep lookin’ at my phone, puttin’ it back down / There’s a little part of me that’s got the fear of missin’ out.” Deeper than just a self-sufficiency anthem, the song speaks to the underrated power of allowing yourself the space to sit in your own unhappiness for a minute — just long enough to appreciate the highs. — Ben Dandridge-Lemco

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3. “Butterflies”

Romantic relationships can be unfulfilling if your partner drains you or causes you to forfeit the parts of yourself that make you unique. On the cheerful, dreamy “Butterflies,” Kacey Musgraves is pleasantly surprised by a romance that doesn’t diminish her, but instead encourages her to be as bold and bright as she’s meant to be. “You're taking my hand 'stead of taking my crown,” she sings, in awe that love can be safe, nurturing, and lift her up to her highest potential. — Juliana Pache

4. "Oh, What A World"

"Oh, What A world" could have been one of Golden Hour’s cheesiest songs. With vocoder, pedal steel guitar, and banjo, Kacey revels at the impossibility of our planet: its fantastical sea creatures and greenery that breathes, grows, and stretches. A cynic might consider all of these things as inconsequential, but as Kacey earnestly lists them all out, like she’s going down a grocery list, you can't help but consider them, too. Then, she stumbles upon her lover: "Oh, what a world / And then there is you," she sings. It's a genuine-feeling sigh of relief, like she had forgotten they were there and felt awestruck all over again. — Steffanee Wang

5. “Mother”

Sometimes, when I can’t fall asleep at night and am in the mood to psychologically torment myself, I wonder what my life will look like when my mom dies. It’s macabre as hell, I know, but I find a strange relief in anything that reminds me to appreciate people while they’re still around, even if it’s imagining a time when they’re not. “Mother,” the shortest track on Golden Hour, is nowhere close to being that dark, but the effect is the same. The stripped-down piano melody is wistful from the first note, and the lyrics are a surprise punch to the gut: “I’m just sitting here thinking ’bout the time that’s slipping / And missing my mother, mother / And she’s probably sitting there / Thinking ’bout the time that’s slipping / And missing her mother, mother.” Kacey wrote “Mother” while she was tripping on acid and a text from her mom sent her into an emotional breakdown, and honestly, I feel it. Call or hug your mom if you’ve got one. — Layla Halabian

6. "Love Is a Wild Thing"

It made me weirdly gleeful when Kacey Musgraves said, a few years ago, that she was considering making a reggae album, but my taste for her music will always hinge on the classic country sounds. On this collection of tracks in the style of you-can't-stop-me, the acoustic guitar and sweet words of "Love Is a Wild Thing" are reassuringly simple. For Kacey, love made her sing with a vocoder and do country disco; I'm a comfort-loving Cancer, so my own "flowers in the concrete" makes me want to listen to this. — Duncan Cooper

7. “Space Cowboy”

When I spoke to Kacey Musgraves earlier this year, we talked about how freaking good it feels to run away from that thing that keeps pulling you down. That's what she's dealing with on "Space Cowboy," an incredibly powerful ballad that hits me in the chest every time I hear that first piano chord. I like to think of the song as a triumphant sequel to "Fine" from 2015's Pageant Material — there's no sense in pretending the fuckery is OK, but letting go doesn't mean you don't have love in your heart for that person anymore. Love is complicated, but “Space Cowboy” is simply a banger, one that makes my tear ducts explode. — Myles Tanzer

8. “Happy & Sad”

If all you know is heartbreak, it’s tough to embrace the fact that you’re deserving of happiness. You put walls up, auto-piloting your heart through life to protect yourself, because you know that if you let your guard down for too long, the same sad shit’s gonna happen all over again. “Happy & Sad,” a beautiful, slow-swelling ballad from Kacey Musgraves’s basically perfect new album, is the song version of the feeling of finally letting someone in again. The joy of the moment is washing over you, but you know, deep down, you still might have to brace yourself for the worst. “When, everything is perfect / I start hidin’ / ’Cause I know that rain is coming my way,” Kacey belts out on the song’s mega climax. It’s a more solemn version of the lovestruck star’s usually zingy cynicism, reminding us that, sadly, maybe some things really are too good to be true. — Nazuk Kochhar

9. “Velvet Elvis”

Kacey might not be the queen of country music, but she's undoubtedly the queen of country-kitsch, from her spangled jumpsuits to fluorescent neon cacti. Remember her foot-tall hair at the 2014 CMA awards? The higher the hair, the closer to God. And on this low-key late-album cut, she pays tribute to the big King in the sky. Degraded as Elvis's reputation (and the reputations of hardcore Elvis fans) might be now to some in the music world, there's no better torchbearer than Kacey, who'll do just what she wants with the genre, too. — Duncan Cooper

10. "Wonder Woman"

The narrative concept of “I’m no superhero” is definitely covered in country, and really all genres, but on “Wonder Woman,” Kacey elevates the idea by making it just as loving as it is realistic. She’s only human, but there’s a twist: humans aren’t hopeless. In some country songs, there’s a persistent attempt to make love feel average, to down home-inize romance, but Kacey finds tenderness in her grasp for reality. Hers is a track about people’s flaws that isn’t mad at people’s flaws. “You don’t know how to fly, no / That’s okay, neither do I,” she sings, turning what could have been a taunt into something sweet. — Lily Puckett

11. “High Horse”

"Oh I bet you think you're John Wayne," Kacey sings on "High Horse," the lilt in her voice making it clear that that don't impress her much. She then proceeds to ether a sanctimonious dick who is "classic in the wrong way" over a Saturday Night Fever-esque backbeat, the whole thing lit up with strings and twanging guitars. It's a perfect entry point to where Golden Hour positions Kacey right now; it’s graceful modern pop laced with a narrative that Dolly Parton would be proud of. Hum this one next time your enemy walks into a room. — David Renshaw

12. “Golden Hour”

As much as I want to be a cold-hearted bitch who drifts in and out of men’s lives causing distress and heartbreak, it’s just not true. I love love, and lucky for me Golden Hour is packed to the brim with it, perhaps nowhere more so than on the titular track. A soaring ode to her new husband, “Golden Hour” captures the feeling of looking at someone and realizing that what you have is the real deal. “I used to get sad and lonely when the sun went down,” Kacey confesses over a gently plucked guitar. “It’s different now, ’cause I love the light that I found in you.” When we talked to Kacey recently, she said she worried that being happy would make her unable to write. “Golden Hour,” one of her best songs to date, dispels any such fears. — Olivia Craighead

13. “Rainbow”

When I was 19, I had a bad summer. A friend died unexpectedly, and I coped by getting fucked up a lot. That July, or maybe it was August, my pal Sarah and I spent a long afternoon by a lake, sprawled out on a rock that was shaped like a shoulder blade. At one point, I jumped in the water and swam out a ways. Sarah, from the rock, let out a gasp and pointed at something behind me. Still treading water, I turned my body around and saw a huge rainbow, so vivid and bright that it sort of looked fake. Listening to “Rainbow,” the long-gestating, no-frills piano ballad that closes out Golden Hour, it’s actually impossible to not think about that day, which I’ll always remember as a kind of turning point. “Let go of your umbrella / Darling I’m just tryin’ to tell ya / That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head,” Kacey sings clearly, comforting a heavy-hearted loved one the best way she knows how. She understands that the messiness of life can make it hard to see the beauty in things, or even recognize that it’s there at all. Sometimes you need a friend to point it out. — Patrick D. McDermott

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Golden Hour is out now. Read The FADER's new interview with Kacey here.
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The 13 best songs on Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour