‘Golden Hour’ Is The Country Masterpiece Kacey Musgraves Was Destined To Make

Kelly Christine Sutton

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Good in a glass. Good on green. Good when you’re putting your hands all over me.

It must be an exaggeration, but it feels like the new Kacey Musgraves album is the first good thing to happen in 2018. In a year already weary with fuck ups — both others and our own — Golden Hour is the summation of Musgraves’ silvery strengths, and in her success, the hint of a lovely, somehow still-possible future shines. This album is so sweetly sure, so wisely tender, that I’ve spent the better part of this week listening to it while crying in parking lots, moved to pull over by the sheer grace of it. It’s so easy to be jaded and unmoved, especially in our current era, that opening yourself up to be soft is the hardest thing in the world. Kacey’s unflinching softness is the strongest thing I’ve heard all year, and it broke my proud, lonely heart right open. Golden Hour is brief, beautiful, and powerful; it’s the work of a veteran songwriter who just released a modern classic in the prime of her youth. It shuts the door forever on the idea that only heartbreak can fuel ideal art.

Golden Hour reminds that even in 2018, there is a kind of deep, pure love that doesn’t try to incite jealousy, that doesn’t try to prove anything that isn’t true. It’s frighteningly rare these days, but Musgraves has found it, and her rendition of the age-old experience has resulted in a modern country masterpiece. A woman on the cusp of 30, newly-married to fellow musician Ruston Kelly, Kacey is something of an emblem for millennials, a generation of overeducated and underpaid adult-teens eager to put a decade or more of heartbreaks, missteps, and judgments behind us. Raised on divorce and porn, steeped in debt, pollution, and corruption, it takes an immense amount of talent to make love songs this earnest feel resonant to my generation. But here, these are love songs strong enough to bust open the biggest cynic’s heart and let in wild, difficult beams of hope. In many ways, it feels like an album Musgraves was destined to make.

Kacey’s understated persona belies the way she’s been feverishly embraced by the mainstream music industry, where even the biggest country stars rarely gain steady footing. Her insistence on conquering Nashville her own way — with gay-friendly anthems and subdued, subtle country ballads that are nevertheless sharp — points toward a more significant shift in American culture. The Texas country singer is a rare crossover who is beloved by the indie mainstream, an outlier in her own conservative southern genre, honored by the Grammys and snubbed by country radio. Through it all, Musgraves maintains an enviable, sweetly tough poker face, and a determination to make whatever kind of music she wants to make.

On her breakout album, 2013’s Same Trailer, Different Park, this was down-tuned honky-tonk with a razor-sharp pop edge, and on the 2015 follow-up, Pageant Material, it was a glittery but demure set of anti-establishment crooners, that, for all their sparkle, still came off as a bit of a retread. Golden Hour pulls from the same playbook as those two records, which both earned her Grammy nominations and top 3 chart debuts, but it contains an elevated sense of purpose that transforms her work from simply great to utterly magnificent.