BY ANUSHA TANDON //
Mitski delivers indie-pop perfection on her sixth record Laurel Hell. In her first album release since 2018, the darling of the indie scene displays her songwriting prowess in a more commercial and accessible way than in the past. Her generous use of disco-inspired instrumentals and upbeat melodies make for catchy sad-girl anthems everyone can dance to.
Laurel Hell was one of the most highly-anticipated records of 2022. Mitski’s last album, Be The Cowboy, skyrocketed her to fame, and she has only grown more popular over her hiatus. Her edgy songwriting and desperate, longing vocals have struck a chord with her fans, who often feel as though she is speaking directly to them. Laurel Hell delivers on this front, with lyrics that feel like diary entries. The instrumentals have moved away from rough indie rock to a synth-filled 80s pastiche. The result is more commercial-sounding, but still extremely honest.
Synths and upbeat melodies with sad lyrics are not new to Mitski; “Why Didn’t You Stop Me” off Be The Cowboy could fit in well with many Laurel Hell tracks. On this album she has mastered danceability. The end of the music video for “Working For the Knife” shows Mitski whirling into madness, which might as well be the thesis of the record. “Stay Soft,” “Love Me More,” and “Should’ve Been Me” feature cutting lyrics against the backdrop of glimmering synths and toe-tapping, candy-coated chords. Listening to them feels invigorating but terrifying, like the only way to stop yourself from going insane is to keep moving.
Not all of the album is this upbeat. “Valentine, Texas” is a raw and powerful opener, similar to Be The Cowboy and Puberty 2 era tunes “Geyser” and “Happy” . The song begins slowly but, in classic Mitski fashion, explodes into the second verse. The other less upbeat stand out, “Heat Lightning,” is slightly more ominous. “Well I’ve held on / But feel a storm approaching,” Mistki sings, offering a sense of foreboding. This is amplified by the choir-like harmonies during the chorus, evoking her debut album, Lush.
The album as a whole mostly focuses on Mitski’s conflicted relationship with releasing the music business. Having planned to stop music for good after …Cowboy, she realized she was obligated to write one more record as part of her contract. Mitski has repeatedly said she felt she had to leave music or she would lose herself to it. “And I opened my arms wide to the dark / I said, ‘Take it all, whatever you want,’” she croons on “Everyone.” The dark has always symbolized the unknown for Mitski; on Laurel Hell it symbolizes her career.
There’s a sense of finality to this record, but it never sounds bitter. On the closer, “That’s Our Lamp,” Mitski repeats “That’s where you loved me” over a swelling chorus of voices until the song fades out. It feels like a goodbye. Though this may be the end, fans will always be grateful for the ten years and six albums of deeply personal, creative music that she has created. Laurel Hell is Mitski rediscovering her passion for music, and self-love shines through on every track.