Mitski is finally back, releasing her sixth studio album Laurel Hell on 4 February.
After four years away from the spotlight, her latest release embraces uncertainty and explores typical themes heard in Mitski’s previous work, such as unrequited love and emotional turmoil, but with a greater sense of urgency.
The album opens strongly, with the glorious, brooding track Valentine, Texas. The determined, driven instrumental, sprinkled with synth beats, transports the listener back to the ’80s – something that is replicated throughout the track list.
The explosion of emotion after the first verse is the first of many twists and turns heard throughout the project with a similar sound utilised on album highlight There’s Nothing Left Here For You. Despite the deluge of despair, Mitski remains distant, both vocally and lyrically.
This is echoed on the dreamy single Working For The Knife, with its hazy nature blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction. The tangible emotion is evident with Mitski’s muted vocals, something reiterated on the soft but strong Love Me More, a raw ballad with some stark lyricism.
The thought-provoking thematic nature of Love Me More is also heard on Stay Soft, a disco track that contrasts voracious vocals with a sporadic piano melody. The song is instrumentally reminiscent of the Japanese-born musicians previous project Be The Cowboy, and this sound is further heard on Heat Lightning, a single with a cinematic, soaring instrumental that creates an almost religious listening experience.
One of the highlights of the album comes in the form of the new-wave inspired single The Only Heartbreaker, which establishes Mitski as the antagonist of her story.
The deceivingly upbeat track combines building synths with a sharp guitar riff, and the bridge at times feels as though it will slip into total turmoil – but the singer manages to pull it back just in time, balancing on a fine line between order and chaos, a motif echoed throughout the album.
This sense of fragility and desperation is continued with the closing number That’s Our Lamp, which descends into anarchy towards the end. The soundscape created is almost anxiety-inducing, but that’s one of the highlights of her work – despite Mitski’s profoundly confessional style, we leave the album feeling as though we know nothing about her – and that seems to be the way she likes it.
Another focal point of the album is the combination of tracks 9 and 10, Should’ve Been Me and I Guess. The tracks fuse perfectly, and whether intentional or not, feel like the difference between a party and the aftermath, with I Guess evoking intense feelings of loneliness.
The upbeat melody of the former contrasts with the choral, almost eerie nature of the latter, with the religious connotations linking to Heat Lightning in a practically oxymoronic fashion.
The project falters slightly with Everyone, with the idiosyncratic instrumental feeling somewhat unfinished at points, and the album is also perhaps a little too short – it would be nice to have seen Mitski evolve a little more, and create more of a cohesive narrative across the album.
At times, you can sense her tiredness – but this is to be expected, with the singer previously stating her desire to step away from her music – this being a theme heard on Working For The Knife.
Overall, however, the album is a superb celebration of raw emotion and a fantastic auditory experience – even if you’re not a fan of Mitski, you’ll finish listening to Laurel Hell with more questions than answers- and that’s what makes her so brilliant.