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Album Review: Laurel Hell and the return of Mitski

By Ramiro Bustamante Torres, February 18 2022—

From the Japanese-American singer-songwriter who gave us the rhapsody of loneliness, “Nobody” from her 2018 album Be the Cowboy — which went from an anthem for sad girls to a TikTok trend — we get her most recent album, Laurel Hell

Mitski released her sixth album, Laurel Hell on Feb. 4, which some might suggest foul play with Valentine’s Day just around the corner. She had dropped four singles before the album release which include “Working for the Knife’,’ “The Only Heartbreaker,” “Heat Lightning” and “Love Me More” with accompanying music videos — “Stay Soft” was released with its music video the same time as the album. 

Laurel Hell, is eleven tracks where the lyrics are an exploration of coming back to the old and examining failed relationships while the instrumentation is either suggesting to dance like nobody’s watching, or to lie down for a moment. 

Starting with “Working for the Knife” we can hear Mitski laments working for money — the knife some would say — and her art only pushing the knife to cut deeper and deeper into her. She had previously stated in an interview with Dazed how she believes all this work is to make enough money to be left alone. In the music video, we see Mitski removing her cowboy outfit and heading towards a stage where she begins to perform for a non-existent audience. This is further supported by her first verse “I cry at the start of every movie / I guess ‘cause I wish I was making things, too / But I’m working for the knife.” This song was definitely a strong single for Mitski as a comeback. 

Mitski’s second single is “The Only Heartbreaker” which has been my favourite of the entire album. The lyrics express the feelings of someone putting the effort into a relationship and messing up while the other party just allows this to keep happening as seen in the first verse — “If you would just make one mistake / what a relief that would be.” This theme comes back again in the end of the second verse — “I’ll be the water main that’s burst and flooding / You’ll be the by the window, only watching.” 

The lyrics are paired with an upbeat rhythm with synths above it, making this song cathartic as you can dance to it while you sing to the chorus along with Mitski.  

Mitski’s fourth single “Love Me More” hits close to home especially after going through isolation in the pandemic. She repeats “Love me more / Love enough to fill me up” to “Love me more / Love enough to drown it out,” in the chorus which hints at getting that love needed that was a struggle to get during lockdown and social distancing. 

The simple strumming with quick pads underneath make the music more upbeat than it really sounds when listening closely to the lyrics. The music video also explores Mitski doing these seemingly random tasks, but her performance can be considered trying to fit in, trying to mirror her surroundings to reach an unknown goal which could be trying to receive that love she craves.

Another song that stuck out for me was “Stay Soft.” Like most of the album, the music sounds upbeat with a few not-so-pleasant sounds peppered in, it but overall something you could dance to. The lyrics — again, like the rest of the album — hold more emotional weight than the music does. Mitski sings “You stay soft, get beaten” and “You stay soft, get eaten” to be followed by “Only natural to harden up” repeatedly in the chorus, alluding to getting hurt by being vulnerable with another. I really loved the choice to reduce the instruments down to just the rhythm, especially at “I tuck my hand under my weight” in the second verse, giving focus to the lyrics for the listener. 

I recommend Laurel Hell for anyone who wants to listen to Mitski’s return and needs to dance out their problems. If you are in a relationship and it’s not going great, I suggest you hold this album off unless you’re ready to have hard conversations with yourself. For old and new fans of Mitski, I hope they can appreciate her new album and accept her retirement from sadness.

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