After the immaculate success of her last album, Be the Cowboy, Asian-American singer-songwriter Mitski announced an indefinite hiatus from her music career back in 2019. Succeeding the long hiatus, she has returned to her music, presenting her struggles that occurred within that time in her sixth studio album, Laurel Hell.
It’s both a beautiful yet sorrowful listen, one moment consists of an insanely catchy melody and the next consists of extremely tear-jerking lyrics. For hardcore fans, this is the normal setup for a Mitski album, but nonetheless, it never seems to get old.
Several songs on the album consist of Mitski reflecting on her music career. Her personal struggle with fame and success are shown immensely throughout the album, making it feel more personal and wholehearted.
The album opens up with “Valentine, Texas,” a song that first sounds dark but then ascends into a beautiful synth instrumental. The opening lyrics act as a humble welcoming as she sings, “Let’s step carefully into the dark.” She is preparing herself and her listeners as she dives back into her music career, seemingly a daunting task for her to do.
Released as the first single off the album, “Working for the Knife” reflects further on her career head on. Mitski refers to the knife as a metaphor for her hardships, the hardships that ultimately made her almost leave her career behind. Throughout the song, she expresses that she is working, living and dying for the metaphorical knife. Entering in with some heavy synth and a simple drumbeat, the song sounds idle but leaves a lasting impression during each listen.
Fourth track on the album, “Everyone,” is yet another song where she dwells on her music career. After being told not to pursue music by those surrounding her, she ignores them and follows through, to which she ends up giving up everything in order to gain fame and success. Lyrics “Take it all, whatever you want” resemble her willing determination to do anything to rise to fame. But after realizing what it took from her, she decides to step back. The ending lyrics “Sometimes I think I am free / Until I find I’m back in line again” resemble her thinking that she was going to stay away from music but instead she finds herself making music again.
The album’s embrace of 80’s synth-pop elements curates a brilliant, poignant sound. She manages to exceed the many other artists that try to replicate such an iconic and intricate genre. Compared to these other artists, she shows more authenticity especially in songs like “Love Me More”, “The Only Heartbreaker”, and “Should’ve Been Me.” Universally, all the songs on the album contain some use of that trendy electronic synth instrumentation that provides a substantial amount of sentiment to her music.
Closing off the album with “That’s Our Lamp” was an interesting choice for the artist. While she usually ends her album with slower heartfelt songs like “Two Slow Dancers” and “A Burning Hill,” she decides to end this album with “That’s Our Lamp.” This last feature on the album sounds brighter than her previous closures, but still features her signature touch of lyrics being somber and harrowing.
It would make more sense to end the album with “I Guess,” which contains that more somber sound that usually serves as a resolution on prior albums. Second to last on the album, this song acts as a show of gratitude from Mitski as she ends the song with “From here, I can say, ‘Thank you’ / From here, I can tell you, ‘Thank you’.”
Mitski proves yet again that she is unlike any other artist out there. Her individuality, which is heavily presented in her lyrics and sound, have an ample way of projecting her music into the hearts of many. This album particularly has its heartfelt moments in its lethargic songs and in its more poppy songs. This is the usual formula for the artist but still her skill hasn’t diminished after the past few years and it seems to only grow stronger with age.
It’s severely hard to compare the album to its predecessor but overall the album still holds its own. While it may not hold above the previous album, there is still proof of growth and improvement. Hopefully, Mitski continues her journey as she continues to hit the peak of her own success.
Laurel Hell is a short yet extensive album, with a runtime of just over 30 minutes. Some songs shine more than others but what she lacks in sound she makes up for in her lyricism. Both electrifying and bold, Mitski’s meaningful new album addresses her tumultuous career within the resounding use of synth-pop. This album was definitely hard for her to make but through her astonishing ability to express herself she is able to create an album so engrossing.