Mitski returns to darkness

As Mitski reflects on the risks taken and lessons learned, his ambivalences are sharpened. A disco march intertwined with firm piano cho...


As Mitski reflects on the risks taken and lessons learned, his ambivalences are sharpened. A disco march intertwined with firm piano chords and blippy synthesizers carries her through “Stay Soft” as she advises “Open your heart / Like the gates of hell”, then declares: “You stay soft, you get you beat / It’s natural to get tough on top.” In “The Only Heartbreaker” – the only song co-written on the album, by Mitski and Dan Wilson (who also collaborated with Adele, Taylor Swift and the Chicks) – the genre of upbeat and thrilling neo-1980 production recently favored by the Weeknd pumps along as she promises to accept all blame for a failing relationship. “I apologize, you forgive me,” she sings as the chord progression climbs; does it elevate it or drown it?

Throughout “Laurel Hell,” Mitski, now 31, both misses and rejects her youthful naivety. In “Working for the Knife” she struggles to get out of a creative block, on sustained synthesizer sounds, a painful rhythm and bursts of spaghetti-western guitar: “I always thought the choice was mine”, sings – her, “And I was right, but I just chose wrong.”

In the austere “Everyone,” her voice floats above a deadpan, stubbornly repeating drum machine beat of synthesizer notes, while Mitski admits she defied everyone’s advice. Instead, “I opened my arms wide in the dark/I said, take it all, what you want”, only to find out later that she can’t escape. The same desperation pervades “Heat Lightning” with droning guitars and muffled drums backing a desperate confession: “I can’t do nothin’, I can’t change much / I leave it to you, I surrender.” And in the brief but telling “I Guess,” Mitski mourns the loss of a lifelong companion over hazy, resounding keyboard chords; her vocal melody wanders in and out of dissonance, as if the outside world were oblivious to her grief.

Mitski deploys a whole pop arsenal in “Love me more.” Its title is concise and ready to use; the track has a fast pace and sturdy major chords, and when the chorus arrives, the drums thump harder as cascading piano chords and shimmering synthesizers surround it like a barrage from a confetti cannon. But the confidence of the music completely belies the raw lust of the lyrics. She tries to find the will to carry on, fight anxiety, wonder how everyone is doing “another day to come, then another day to come” and to beg for someone who can “drown him, drown me”. All his musical command cannot ward off the darkness.

Mitsky
“Laurel Hell”
(dead oceans)

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