The last decade saw Mitski’s intense songwriting muster up a cult-like fanbase, who levitated towards her incisive, yet vulnerable delineation of the modern age. Though her cynical commentary saw her music categorised as ‘sad girl indie’, her lugubrious lyricism on projects like ‘Bury Me at Makeout Creek’ and ‘Puberty 2’, saw her angst and melodrama conveyed through compelling imagery, making her one of the most visceral songwriters of the past decade. While not always connecting with her on a personal level, the rawness and intimacy of her lyrics is something I’ve grown to appreciate, and given her outstanding execution on the more pop oriented ‘Be The Cowboy’, I was intrigued to see how Mitski would approach her 6th studio album.

But while retaining her lyrical nuance, Mitski’s half-hearted attempt at 80s synthpop sees ‘Laurel Hell’ lack any sense of cohesion, falling well short of the standards she’s set throughout her discography. Only partially committing to the rapturous new-wave aesthetic, ‘Laurel Hell’s’ tracklist becomes incoherent, alternating between upbeat, ABBA inspired piano melodies on ‘Should’ve Been Me’, and despondent slow-burners, such as the dreary ‘I Guess’. These contrasts occur throughout the record, making for a confused listen, which sonically resembles a collection of loose ideas. ‘That’s Our Lamp’ reinforces this cluttered arrangement, which despite the best-efforts of the triumphant brass synths, fails to cohesively tie the album together.

Despite being a mess, ‘Laurel Hell’s’ highlights provide some of Mitski’s best songs to date, in particular the sensual, yet sinister ‘Stay Soft’, on which the shimmering hi-hats and nostalgic synths bring out the best of her powerful vocals, sounding very much like something which could’ve existed on ‘Be The Cowboy’. Equally as impressive is her personification of self-destruction on ‘Working For The Knife’, where the minimalist production brilliantly represents the monotony of living in a capitalist society. Despite structurally consisting of 5 verses and no chorus, minor additions such as the wheeping slide guitar ensure the instrumental remains intriguing, while also allowing the repetition to reflect the world moving forward without her.

Thematically, ‘Laurel Hell’ presents a dark, sombre mindset – one we’ve become accustomed to throughout Mitski’s discography, which she herself acknowledges on the opening track, ‘Valentine, Texas’, singing “Once we’re in, I’ll remember my way around”. Perhaps signifying a return to a dejected state of mind, this line could also be referencing her return to the music industry, which she claimed to have retired “indefinitely” from in 2019. ‘Everyone’ further extends on this topic, with the lyrics “Sometimes I think I am free, Until I find I’m back in line again”, suggesting any sense of freedom is eradicated when summoned upon to record another album for her label. While intriguing from a lyrical standpoint, the tinny percussion and lifeless, droning synths which loop throughout the track, drain any momentum which had built up over the first 3 tracks.

Sadly, moments like this occur far too frequently on ‘Laurel Hell’, resulting in periods of uninspired performances. Despite being just 30 minutes in length, the monotony of tracks such as ‘Heat Lightning’ and ‘There’s Nothing Left Here For You’ make listening to this album a hard slog, throughout which the obnoxiously bloated mixing makes it difficult to engage with Mitski’s lyrics. Despite demonstrating moments of excellence, such as the explosive chorus on the charismatic ‘Love Me More’, performances like this only exemplify the underwhelming nature of the other tracks. Though the album’s highlights present Mitski at her very best, the hesitant adhesion towards nostalgic synth-pop culminates in a disorganised album, with too many unfulfilling performances.

Favourite Tracks: Stay Soft, Love Me More

Worst Tracks: Everyone, Heat Lightning


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: