Album Review

Kacey Musgraves - Deeper Well

The edges on Deeper Well may not be as sharp, but they feel more complete.

Kacey Musgraves - Deeper Well Album Cover
March 15, 2024 10:04 am GMT

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Kacey Musgraves - Deeper Well

Label: Interscope / MCA Nashville

Release Date: March 15, 2024

Tracklisting:

1. Cardinal

2. Deeper Well

3. Too Good to be True

4. Moving Out

5. Giver / Taker

6. Sway

7. Dinner with Friends

8. Heart of the Woods

9. Jade Green

10. The Architect

11. Lonely Millionaire

12. Heaven Is

13. Anime Eyes

14. Nothing to be Scared Of

There’s a distinct sense of before and after in Kacey Musgraves’ career to date.

With two albums of straight-shooting country cuts, Musgraves was a critically revered country rebel. Then came 2018’s gigantic, Grammy winning Golden Hour, which gave her a cultural cache and pop culture base not often granted within the genre, whilst 2021’s self-proclaimed “acidic” Star Crossed moved her further towards the open space of cross-genre, contemporary music.

While each of the records have a life of their own, to fully appreciate her fifth studio album, Deeper Well, you have to be understand what proceeded it. If, taken crudely, Golden Hour was a marriage album and Star-Crossed was a divorce album, then Deeper Well is something more self-aware. Grown from the seeds of both records, it's rooted and unanchored at the same time, with no big life event or thematic centrepiece to tie it to. In an era where things must be instantly digestible or aesthetically uniform, Deeper Well may be less appealing for those who like their artists firmly in a box, either tortured or consumed.

Take a track like ‘Anime Eyes’; a song that could be read as a satirical backward look at the giddiness of Golden Hour, its delicate guitar opening evokes the beauty but ultimately untameable nature of ‘Love Is A Wild Thing’ from that album. “Made it through the tears to see a Miyazaki sky, now it’s you and I and we’re flying” she sings, a reference to Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki. It’s a clever touchpoint; what appears cartoonish on the surface can be acerbic for those with a shrewder ear. It subtlety harks back to the clever soundbites and colourful aesthetic of Kacey’s first two albums, Same Trailer Different Park and Pageant Material, something which her early listeners have longed for her to return to. It concludes with a frantic, speak-style stream of inner thoughts that sound like a teenager in love. “Sailor Moon’s got nothing on me”, she gushes.

Sounding like a cross between Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young, ‘Cardinal’, meanwhile, thrums in the husks of desert guitar, coated in a varnish of 90s indie that they were seemingly borne of. Musgraves has been open about her love of symbology, crystals, and astrology, and the cardinal is a symbol of abundance and vitality – that dead things can come back to life in another form. “Are you sending me a message from the other side?” she sings, with whispering background vocals giving a Simon & Garfunkel-esque delicacy. That mythical lullaby feel continues with ‘Heaven Is’, with its ancient balladry, lilting guitar, Celtic vocal trills and sing-song storytelling.

The album claims to be rooted in the idea of natural space. This produces some songs that, like their theme, are perfectly pleasant but don’t give you much to hold onto. ‘Heart of the Woods’ has a retro sheen with a cheeky wink of a backbeat that lifts it from beachy beginnings to take you to a summer riviera, whilst ‘Sway’ makes use of hoof-beat percussion and choral vocal layering as Musgraves wishes she could go with the flow.

While the natural world is at its heart, the album was recorded in New York, with its promotional shots presenting Musgraves in the style of Holly Golightly on a New York balcony in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The city influence is subtle in the music, but finds its way into songs like ‘Dinner With Friends’ which, once it hits its stride, turns its raindrops on the window piano opening into more piano bar dramaticism. This makes up for more pedestrian lyrics like “the shape of his eyes, the shape of his nose, the cute ways he mispronounces certain words, the smell of his clothes”, which could otherwise be lost amongst sentimentality.

She’s less content on ‘The Architect’, which pairs her with long-time collaborator Shane McAnally for what is one of the album’s finest moments, questioning how much of life is really planned and how much falls at random. The questioner sits in between the two polarising options, neatly mirroring the place of the record within Musgraves’ discography.

This is an album about love made by a grown-up. The complexities, yes, but with a tamer, more reflective view of the dangers, joys and art of falling in and out of it, from someone who’s suffered the shock of both. The edges on Deeper Well may not be as sharp, but they feel more complete.

8/10

Kacey Musgraves' 2024 album, Deeper Well, is out now via Interscope / MCA Nashville.

For more on Kacey Musgraves, see below:

Written by Holly Smith
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