The center of Kacey Musgraves' dazzling Golden Hour, an album you will be listening to for the rest of your life, hardly lasts more than a minute. On its fifth song, "Mother," she wanes poetic over a lonely piano about shouldering the weight of the world. "I'm just sitting here," she sighs, "thinkin' bout the time that's slipping, and missing my mother."
Then: "And she's probably sitting there, thinkin' bout the time that's slipping, and missing her mother."
It's an expanding seed of nostalgia that makes anyone feel impossibly small, one that stunningly captures the very essence of love and loss, the unyielding march of time, life and the stifling insignificance of it all. It's Golden Hour's quietest moment, one that underlines the album's biggest question: What do you do when you fear the worst is coming?
"I'm the kinda person who starts gettin' kinda nervous when I'm havin' the time of my life," Musgraves confesses on "Happy & Sad," struggling to be content with a good feeling. But Golden Hour is not dragged down in its uncertainty. In fact, it's remarkably bright, a sprawling landscape of psychedelic piano and guitar, rooted in country with fusions of bluegrass, pop, and disco, never raising its voice and hardly altering its soft tempo across 13 songs. Its weaving motifs — of flowers and magic, of rivers and skies, of blinding color, glowing light and the darkness of the unknown — lace it together tightly, building a timeless encapsulation of feeling everything and nothing all at once, of feeling everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
On Golden Hour, Musgraves very gently pines over biggest, tiniest, most patient, and urgent moments, all with an assured air of peace and acceptance. Whether she's ditching a beau on "Space Cowboy" ("When a horse wants to run, ain’t no sense in closing the gate"), or falling in love again on "Butterflies" ("Now I remember what it feels like to fly"), there is no one feeling stronger than the other. The result is a lush depiction of our often awful planet and the still-wonderful things within it. It's hopeful without being naive, melancholy without inspiring pity. Even as it weaves through moments of questioning existence, the album's title track — written as a love letter to her husband, fellow country singer Ruston Kelly — is its most full-throated acceptance of the way things are in the wake of what has been and what will be. "You set my world on fire," she acknowledges, "and I know, I know everything's gonna be alright."
Small and fearful as we are, Golden Hour realizes that nothing ever erodes the reality of true love, of finding peace within ourselves, of marveling at just how beautiful this place really is. On the floating "Oh, What a World," Musgraves is awestruck by the magical fate that brought us here, but plants her boots firmly in front of the one she shares her space with. "These are real things," she affirms of the love and feelings beating in her heart, fleeting and ethereal as they may be. "Oh, what a world," she proclaims. "Don't wanna leave," she repeats, knowing that at some point in time, we all must.