REVIEW: Mitski is back with “Laurel Hell,” and it was worth the wait

After a roughly two year hiatus, indie artist Mitski is back. Her music still carries the same emotional relevance as ever, but with noticeable new influences of folk and electronic music.

 

The album starts with “Valentine, Texas,” which begins soft and somewhat tranquil, then transcends into something greater, with light glam rock influences. Next is “Working for the Knife,” the first of the pre-release songs from October 2021, specifically the one released immediately after she ended her hiatus. The heavy, almost mechanical percussion highlights the sadness of the lyrics, that together embody a palpable sense of despair.

 

The next song, “Stay Soft,” fits Mitski’s often-used style of fun, danceable music with oppositely dark lyrics. Comparable to her 2018 song “Nobody,” this replaces a desperate loneliness with an intense, seemingly unhealthy relationship with sexuality, both being placed over an incredibly groovy instrumental. 

 

Starting with a minimalist instrumental and gentle crooning, “Everyone” reflects a sense of vulnerability, where Mitski seemingly likens her rise to fame in her 20s to the ignorance of a young child, comparing herself to a baby and singing, “I didn't know that I was young, I didn't know what it would take.”

 

Another pre-release song, “Heat Lightning” seems to take a folk or light country influence to its sound, but in a smooth classic country way, unlike modern radio country. It even evokes Christian imagery in some ways, with lines like “I give it up to you, I surrender,” being sung in the cadence of a worship song. Overall it’s quite calm, and apparently comes from Mitski’s experiences with insomnia and the emotions that came with it. 

 

The next song, “The Only Heartbreaker” is similarly one of four pre-release songs, and her first song ever with a co-writer, musician and producer Dan Wilson. The ‘80s electronic influence on this album becomes even stronger through this song, with blasting synth and a beautiful guitar solo that would fit in perfectly with music from four decades ago. Another of the pre-release songs, “Love Me More,” captures a similar synthy instrumentation, featuring Mitski begging for love and affection similar to some of her past songs.

 

“There’s Nothing Left Here for You,” in contrast to the last song, starts quite sad and somber, but amps up heavily about halfway through with thundering guitar. It’s probably one of my least favorites in the album, but is still pretty good, just not a stand-out.

 

After that, “Should’ve Been Me,” has an almost ‘80s pop sound to it, which makes it unbearably catchy despite the depressing context of a partner leaving for someone who looks identical to the singer.

 

I really enjoyed the sad, dreamlike sound of “I Guess,” with Mitski’s gentle singing carrying this ambient track. The last song, “That’s Our Lamp,” contrasts that as another upbeat song with forlorn singing of a failing relationship.

 

Overall, “Laurel Hell” might not be my favorite Mitski album, but it’s still up there, and reflects a courage to step into new genres that I hope to hear more of soon. I had mixed feelings on how the album seems to constantly flip-flop in genre and tone, but it still provides some nice variation. After officially coming out of a two-year hiatus in late 2021, she’s shown off her growth as an artist through this album, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for her.

 

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