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Mitski’s “Laurel Hell”: An Insurgent Indie-Pop Record

After the release of 2018’s spectacular Be the Cowboy, Mitski appeared to have left the music business. Wrapping up the tour for her fifth studio album, she tweeted the date for her “last show indefinitely.” She worried her self-worth was relying too much on “staying in the game.” What’s left for you to do when you achieve your dreams and still feel unfulfilled? Unhappy? Maybe arguably worse off than you were before? Luckily, Mitski found her way back to music to illustrate these feelings in her latest LP, Laurel Hell. She toys with the idea of inadequacy throughout the album, creating a deeply thoughtful, insurgent indie-pop record.

Digging into Mitski’s Laurel Hell

Laurel Hell is a dramatic love affair, documenting Mitski falling in and out of love with music itself. The album’s opener, “Valentine, Texas” sets the stage for the toxic relationship. Acknowledging her return after her hiatus, she sings, “Let’s step carefully into the dark/ Once we’re in, I’ll remember my way around.” You’re already captivated by her introspection and emphasized annunciation. But as she sings, “Wet teeth, shining eyes/ Glimmering by a fire,” synths explode and wrap you into an ethereal embrace. The crescendo feels like Mitski breaking down her walls and sharing her most vulnerable self, bringing you into her world. 

Explaining “Working for the Knife”

She continues the narrative of her tumultuous relationship with her craft most notably on the album’s lead single, “Working for the Knife.” The production is industrial and minimalistic as she sings about working, living, and dying for “the knife.” It’s a metaphor for the lengths Mitski goes to achieve success and the ways her self-worth is cut down in the process.

On this record, Mitski leans even further into pop territory. Be the Cowboy documents her ditching her signature distortion and making a foray into the world of synths. Laurel Hell continues to explore bright, snappy synths to soundtrack Mitski’s heartbreak.

“Love Me More” is an 80’s synth-pop ballad that dazzles and glistens.  Making Mitski’s passionate pleas for adoration feel urgent. The disco-tinged “Stay Soft” is luscious and playful. This song is almost fooling you into thinking it’s a happy song. It carries the same sprightly charm as her hit “Nobody,” although she laments about growing more and more calloused from getting burned in relationships.

Overall, Laurel Hell is yet another must-listen record from Mitski. It has all the raw emotion and brutal honesty that fans have come to love from her, in addition to lush instrumentation and production. And the album’s euphoric closing track, “That’s Our Lamp” leaves you with hope that Mitski and music were soulmates after all.

Feel the Heartbreak IRL

Mitski hits the road beginning February 17 in Asheville, NC. Up and upcoming Japanese rock band CHAI is joining her on tour. She’ll play 26 North American shows before moving onto the UK and Europe. All the North American show dates are sold out. As for the European dates, there are still tickets available for the Zurich show. In addition, Mitski is supporting Harry Styles for five of his UK Love On Tour dates. Check out our Onstage section for more details.

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