In her sixth studio album, Mitski shows listeners another side of herself and her music.
On Friday, Feb. 4 Mitski released her sixth studio album, “Laurel Hell.” As a pretty die hard Mitski fan for many years (“First Love, Late Spring” remained my #1 song on my Spotify wrapped for an embarrassing amount of time), I was incredibly excited to dive into her latest body of work, but also a little nervous. In 2021, several of my other favorite artists released new albums after years of silence, and few of them satisfied the itch that I wanted their music to scratch. I didn’t connect at all with Lorde’s “Solar Power” and found myself zoning out every time I tried to listen. St.Vincent’s “Daddy’s Home” only really captivated me after I saw her in concert and heard the songs live. Both of Lana del Rey’s albums had a few tracks that I enjoyed, but I still haven’t felt compelled to fully listen to either LP. I was worried, would Mitski’s new album suffer the same fate?
Luckily, the answer is no. As her singles came out, I enjoyed each one even more than the last, and I felt optimistic when I went to give “Laurel Hell” its first full listen. I was pretty sure it was going to be a win for me as soon as the first track, “Valentine, Texas” ended. The song felt like the perfect way to start a Mitski album: slow and emotional, with a powerful crescendo halfway through that grabs hold of you and says,
“We’re going to spend some time dealing with our emotions, whether you like it or not!”.
I have so many feelings about Mitski and her work that I knew I couldn’t tackle the job of listening to and making decisions about the album all on my own, so I turned to my two best girlfriends from high school who have always connected to her music in a similar way.
We had a really long conversation about the album, less for whether or not it was good on its own, but more for whether or not it was good for a Mitski album. My friend Emily stated, “Mitski set the bar high with her preceding albums, making it difficult for this album to make the same mark. The 80s synth layering in some of the songs is fun and energetic, namely “Love Me More” is a total ear worm. The lyrics, as always, are relatable and poetic… My favorite off the album, “That’s Our Lamp,” uses the same sound as Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmas Time,” yet she is still able to make it sound haunting and mellow.”
“The songs I like the best are good, but not comparable to some of the songs off other albums. Each of her albums are distinct in their sound, and form cohesive themes, and this one is no different. Forever one of my favorite songwriters, I can’t say that I don’t like Mitski’s album, yet it has not had the impact on me that her previous albums have had.”
My friend Lizzie chimed in with a similar opinion, stating “… it seems very different from her other albums, and while there are some songs that stand out to me and have lyrics that have her trademark relatability and vulnerability, I feel like in a way she lost a lot of her charm on this one… I miss her older stuff because it sounded more original.”
While I fully understood where these assessments were coming from, I had to disagree. With “Laurel Hell” Mitski has hit the sweet spot of her career. Through her beautiful, hauntingly honest and vulnerable lyrics, she still openly discusses difficult topics, but she’s taken those trademarks and combined them with a composition that is more mature and listenable. I mentioned her 2014 studio album “Bury Me at Makeout Creek,” citing that as one of my favorites by her, but not something I could or would want to listen to everyday because of its sometimes harsh sounds and songs that can be more painful than they are enjoyable. My friends agreed, and I continued to explain how I felt about her new album by explaining that what she’s done, creating a work that is still raw and emotional but at the same time so much more upbeat, infectious and digestible, makes me as a listener feel like Mitski is starting to accept her hard feelings. It provides an opportunity to join her in that development. Lizzie compared this idea to artist Japanese Breakfast and her transition from “Psychopomp” to 2021’s “Jubilee,” and I couldn’t agree more. Both creative and vulnerable albums, the latest one being a little more upbeat and easier to get behind, even for those of us who fully appreciated and enjoyed her first LP.
Our conversation continued, and I got a better grip on what I was trying to say. My point of view started to make a little more sense to my friends when I told them, “… we wallowed with [Mitski] for years, and now we get to heal!” We finished up our thoughts and although both Lizzie and Emily agreed that they needed to give the album another listen, I felt that we had really hit the nail on the head. “Laurel Hell” is a great album for a number of reasons. It’s short and sweet; Mitski keeps you on your toes with infectious beats and lyrics that get stuck in your head as well as your heart. She gives you something to sing along with in the car and something to blast through your headphones when you’re not sure how to describe your latest emotions. She reassures you that it’s okay to have these emotions, she feels them too, and has even found some joy in them. Her songwriting is impeccable, and her choices almost contain a certain theatricality that is impressive in and of itself. Her talent and creativity shine through every inch of this album, and it feels so special to take advantage of it as a listener. As a Mitski fan, this album is great for all the aforementioned reasons, and also because you get to recognize the change in her as an artist, and maybe even a similar change in yourself as well. Maybe my enneagram four is showing, but props to Mitski for making me feel seen once again, especially during a time when I think we can all welcome more things that bring us comfort.