Cuco, the indie singer-songwriter known for collaborations with artists such as Kacey Musgraves and Clairo, released his latest extended play Hitchhiker on Nov. 10, creating a synth pop work with a twist of soft-rock, nostalgia and psychedelic soul.
The six-track Interscope Records EP remains faithful to Cuco’s signature bossa nova, indie rock, Latin jazz and bedroom pop sound. Hitchhiker conjures an image of Cuco in the midst of a spiritual journey that at times grows intergalactic.
Cuco fortifies his music with repetitive emotional professions, and Hitchhiker is no exception. Melancholic, hopeful and frustrating, Hitchhiker inches closer to the music of psychedelic rock’s biggest stars, such as Tame Impala.
Alex Pasco — who helped musically engineer Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence and Halsey’s hopeless fountain kingdom — partly produced Hitchhiker, which follows the strain in a long-distance relationship that leaves the speaker heartbroken.
The lead single “Planet Express” is a nod to Cuco’s earlier, more rudimentary bedroom pop. Soft percussion and synthy droning bring to life the heartbreak-like lyrics such as “Tryna figure out things that don’t make sense to me/Hopeless like someone, so hopeless can bе.”
While “Planet Express,” “Give it the World” and “Mesh Camp” on Hitchhiker serve as spiritual successors to Cuco’s previous hits like “Winter’s Ballad” off his 2017 album Songs4u, the track “Junkies and Rarities” leans more into psychedelic rock — a refreshing departure from the artist’s typical style.
With its gentle vocals and soft instrumentals, Hitchhiker resembles the music of The Marías, an indie pop band Cuco collaborated with earlier this year on the Spanish-language track “Si Me Voy.”
While Cuco’s signature lo-fi beats and dronings make his music stand out, I found myself enjoying the slight departure from his usual style. Cuco’s music isn’t defined by starkly genres or ‘eras’ between releases, but rather slowly evolves in small increments. Yet while listening to Hitchhiker, this evolution felt a tad too slow.
In “Mesh Camp,” Cuco sings, “So take this journey with me,” beckoning both the listener and a lover to join him in personal growth and development. As “Mesh Camp” combined elements from Cuco’s prior works, like his 2019 album Para Mi and his 2022 album Fantasy Getaway, the request felt somewhat stale.
The EP’s first track “Edith” frustratingly exemplifies this, despite being a top track off of Hitchhiker. The song follows Cuco’s production formula of droning melodies with soft beats, overlaid by cloud-like vocals.
The lyrics gently pull at the heartstrings, calling for closeness: “When you sleep, think of me /I’m comin’ home soon/ Do you see what I mean?/ I wanna be with you.” While Cuco’s plaintive lyrics always strike a chord, the instrumentals felt dated.
“Messenger” closes off the EP with a sense of peace, like Cuco has understood where his journey has taken him. “Finally, we can go to sleep,” he sings, signaling the closure to Hitchhiker.
Overall, the EP sinks too deep into the bindings of Cuco’s typical soft-pop sound. Its slight stray into soft-rock fell flat due to the lack of commitment to the genre. But Hitchhiker still displays Cuco at his greatest through strong emotional ballads.