Mitski is back with Laurel Hell, a hard hitting album about capitalism, heartbreak, and the death of our youth and culture as we know it. Mitski surprised all of us and none of us at the same time when she announced a hiatus after the release of 2018’s Be The Cowboy. On one hand, she seemed at the peak of her career with her hit single “Nobody” booming from countless speakers. On the other, as seasoned Mitski fans know, she always seems a bit dissatisfied with where she is in life. We wondered whether she would truly be gone forever, leaving us with five albums and a Mitski-shaped hole in our hearts.
In November, it hit the stands: A new single and an upcoming album from Mitski. “The Only Heartbreaker” was also released that day as a single, and quickly became my favorite of the singles, and my favorite new song of the year as well. It was happy and quirky with those dark undertones we had come to expect from her music, and it’s smack in the middle of Laurel Hell’s track listing. Center stage, if you will.
The album as a whole is cohesive, but in a shy way that you have to look for. Amidst the Elton John-esque piano synths in “Should’ve Been Me” and double entendres like “Stay Soft”, is a portrait of a woman who has grown since we first heard from her all those years ago. She is reminiscing on her time in the music industry and reflecting on how things weren’t how she expected they would be. Songs like “Working for the Knife” and “Everyone” are paramount to her experience in the limelight, and almost a warning for those wishing to follow in her footsteps.
It’s hard to say I have a favorite track on Laurel Hell. They all hit me in such different ways and different places. In “Love Me More” it was like she ripped a page out of my life where my husband asks how he can possibly give me more attention when I ask why he is leaving the room. In “Heat Lightning” she sings about insomnia, pointing toward the hopelessness I feel when I see another car drive past my window at 2 a.m., the headlight casting just that one long shadow that leaves as quickly as it showed up. In “Working for the Knife” when she says “I used to think I’d be done by 20”, spitting back into my face the obligation of waking up each day. It’s effortlessly relatable. I’m starting to think I should get a therapist.
“I’ll be the water main that’s burst and flooding / You’ll be by the window, only watching”, Mitski sings in “The Only Heartbreaker”. I at first thought maybe it was the wrong song to release as a single due to the upbeat nature of what ends up being a darker album, but now I realize it was the perfect choice. But of course it was perfect, because Mitski does nothing less. She is the perfectionist of all perfectionists. Such an explosion of feeling could only come from her mouth, and we are here on the sidelines, watching it unfurl.
by Nadia Alves
Nadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.