Lifestyle, Music

Review: ‘Laurel Hell’

Mitski opens her sixth studio album — her first release in over three years — with a simple, yet powerful image.

“Let’s step carefully into the dark,” she sings. “Once we’re in, I’ll remember my way around.”

“Laurel Hell,” Mitski’s brand new album, sees her step into this darkness — both comforted and confronted by it. Mitski uses darkness as a representation of the unknown, opening the album by inviting the listener and the subject of the song to join her in this unknown.

Laurel Hell review
A person listens to Mitski’s album “Laurel Hell.” Sam Thomas reviews the artist Miski’s first album release in over three years, calling it an intimate and impressive piece of work. COLIN BOYD/DFP STAFF

Mitski herself is a very private person. On Twitter, Mitski released a statement about making herself “unavailable” to “protect [her] well-being,” yet she feels connected to her fans through a mutual love of music. Mitski rarely does interviews or photoshoots, apart from the obligatory publicity engagements that accompany a new album release.

The only real insight fans get comes from these rare appearances and, of course, her music. On “Laurel Hell,” fans see an artist years into her career, struggling with challenges new and ongoing. Mitski creates simple, intimate portraits of love and the end of love, while also describing the difficulty of remaining motivated to create art.

“I used to think I would tell stories, but nobody cared for the stories I had about no good guys,” Miski sings on “Working for the Knife.”

“Working for the Knife” sees Mitski grapple with capitalism and art — that is her wish to make art but feeling bogged down by the economic system around her.

“I cry at the start of every movie,” she sings. “I guess ‘cause I wish I was making things too, but I’m working for the knife.”

The electronic track sounds almost like it was recorded inside a factory, with pounding mechanical noises filling the dark production. However, the repetitive banging and melody reflect the monotony of living in a world so heavily based on ceaseless working routine and “nine-to-five” jobs.

The songs on “Laurel Hell” also stand out for their short runtime, with the longest song — “Everyone” — hitting just below four minutes and the shortest song —“I Guess” — being just over two minutes. However, this brief runtime does not take away from the elegantly crafted images Mitski conveys in each song.

In “I Guess,” it only takes Mitski two minutes and fifteen seconds to completely shatter my heart beyond repair. She tells the story of heartbreak so deep, she’ll “have to learn to be somebody else.”

“It’s been you and me since before I was me,” she sings in an almost-whisper, over subdued synths. “Without you, I don’t yet know quite how to live.”

While I can understand why someone would think the song is boring due to the simple production and melody, I am completely transported every time I hear it. Mitski’s construction of “I Guess” so perfectly emulates the feeling she describes that I have no choice but to fully immerse myself in the song. It is rare for a song to have such a profound effect, but Mitski pulls it off with ease.

There is not a single song on “Laurel Hell” that feels like a filler track. Each song is crafted with such attention and care that the entire work glimmers with a genuine sheen of accomplishment. Brevity truly works to her advantage, leaving me both immensely pleased with the album while also rushing to hit “repeat.”

Leaning more into a synth-heavy, electronic sound that stands out from her previous albums, Mitski returns to music with a breathtaking and intimate body of work that will impress and intrigue new and old fans alike. “Laurel Hell” was a long-awaited release, and one that was certainly worth the wait.

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