Laurel Hell

Laurel Hell

Mitski wasn’t sure she’d ever make it to her sixth album. After the release of 2018’s standout and star-making record Be the Cowboy, she simply had nothing left to give. “I think I was just tired, and I felt like I needed a break and I couldn't do it anymore,” she tells Apple Music. “I just told everyone on my team that I just needed to stop it for a while. I think everyone could tell I was already at max capacity.” And so, in 2019, she withdrew. But if creating became painful, not doing it at all—eventually—felt even worse. “I was feeling a deep surge of regret because I was like, ‘Oh my god, what did I do?’” she says. “I let go of this career that I had worked so hard to get and I finally got, and I just left it all behind. I might have made the greatest mistake of my life.” Released two years after that self-imposed hiatus, Laurel Hell may mark Mitski’s official return, but she isn’t exactly all in. Darkness descends as she moves back into her own musical world (“Let’s step carefully into the dark/Once we’re in I’ll remember my way around” are this album’s first words), and it feels like she almost always has one eye on her escape route. Such melancholic tendencies shouldn’t come as a surprise: Mitski Miyawaki is an artist who has always delved deep into her experiences as she attempts to understand them—and help us understand our own. More unexpected, though, is the glittering, ’80s-inspired synth-pop she often embraces, from “The Only Heartbreaker”—whose opening drums throw back to a-ha’s “Take On Me,” and against which Mitski explores being the “bad guy” in a relationship—to the bouncy, cinematic “Should’ve Been Me” and the intense “Love Me More,” on which she cries out for affection, from a lover and from her audience, against racing synths. “I think at first, the songs were more straightforwardly rock or just more straightforwardly sad,” she recalls. “But as the pandemic progressed, [frequent collaborator] Patrick [Hyland] and I just stopped being able to stay in that sort of sad feeling. We really needed something that would make us dance, that would make us feel hopeful. We just couldn’t stand the idea of making another sad, dreary album.” This being a Mitski record, there are of course still moments of insular intensity, from “Everyone” to “Heat Lightning,” a brooding meditation on insomnia. And underneath all that protective pop, this is an album about darkness and endings—of relationships, possibly of her career. And by its finish, Mitski still isn’t promising to stick around. “I guess this is the end, I’ll have to learn to be somebody else,” she says on “I Guess,” before simply fading away on final track “That’s Our Lamp.”

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