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Mitski spends much of her seventh studio album, “The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We,” looking up to the sky. Released through Dead Oceans on Sept. 15, the record explores the worlds above, around, and within ourselves. Mitski contemplates a deal that falls from heaven (“The Deal”), sips the dregs of her lover’s coffee and treasures it as a kiss (“Heaven”), and compares a bug on the bottom of her glass to an angel from above (“Bug Like an Angel”).
Indeed, in “The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We,” Mitski’s emotions project themselves onto everything around her, from the celestial, through the physical landscape, and to the divine. In 11 fascinating tracks, Mitski makes the boundaries between worlds porous, but the album ultimately lacks the crackling intensity and angst that made earlier releases like “Bury Me at Makeout Creek” or “Be the Cowboy” shoot her into superstardom.
The album’s opening track, “Bug Like an Angel,” establishes the album’s acoustic-driven folk sound that led Mitski to describe the release as her “most American album.” The sound is softer, more mature, and tamer than 2022’s synthy Laurel Hell — indeed, more so than any of her previous releases. The Mitski of this album reflects on what she’s discovered as she’s “got[ten] older,” handing down advice about “amateur mistakes” as she drinks from a glass with “a little bit left.” “Bug Like an Angel,” which is punctuated by an unexpected gospel choir, is a beautiful meditation on finding the divine in the darkest moments, though its metaphors occasionally veer towards indecipherable.
The next tracks — “Buffalo Replaced,” “Heaven,” and “I Don’t Like My Mind,” take Mitski’s exploration of twangy country western themes to their (albeit tongue-in-cheek) extreme. The chugging bass line of “Buffalo Replaced” evokes the forward motion of the “freight train” whose construction contributed to the very destruction of the buffalo that the title references. “Heaven” begins a sweet country ballad, only for Mitski to deftly unravel it in an extended instrumental outro.“I Don’t Like My Mind” is a clear standout of the album: the song hits you in the face as if you’re walking into a saloon where Mitski belts into a tinny microphone, cleverly playing into the song’s theme of using performance to avoid being “left alone.”
Mitski strengthens her stride — and feels most like herself — with the tracks “The Deal” and “When Memories Snow.” “The Deal” is a dynamic fable which follows Mitski as she makes a deal with the night to give away her soul to “ease her pain,” toying with tempo, melody and volume until the song’s final tonal collapse. “When Memories Snow” packs an eerie and discordant punch reminiscent of the piano-led tracks from Mitski’s debut album, “Lush” and features some of the best poetry of the album: Mitski describes how her memories bury her like snow banks, acting as a portrait of how the past can cross into and interrupt the present.
Two back-to-back ballads — “My Love Mine All Mine” and “The Frost” — feature Mitski’s vocals in their richest, deepest register. “My Love All Mine” is jazzy and mellow, while “The Frost” weaves a metaphor comparing lost love to dust on items “left in the attic” and “frost / Out the window this morning” on top of a country acoustic guitar.
“Star,” a sentimental address to a former lover, features a return of the twinkly synth that punctuated “Laurel Hell” and compares a lost love to the “leftover light” of a burnt out star. “I’m Your Man,” the penultimate track of the album, begins with a fascinating exploration of a relationship’s power dynamics through the lens of God and Man, then Man and Dog — though it’s weakened by a somewhat on-the-nose FX of barking hounds.
Though it still explores the themes of loneliness and longing Mitski has become known for, the album’s last track, “I Love Me After You,” is a celebration of ritualistic self-care: Mitski sings about drinking “cool water” and “laughing in the mirror,” after a lover has left her. In stark contrast to 2018’s “Nobody,” which explored a similar idea of loneliness and featured Mitski singing the lyrics “I just want somebody near me” to “be alright,” Mitski sings that she is “King of all the land” on her own; the song is perhaps the first anthem to self-acceptance and love in Mitski’s work.
Indeed, Mitski’s catalog has previously been described as “sad girl music,” a term used to describe indie female artists like Phoebe Bridgers or Clairo whose music is deeply vulnerable and emotive. Mitski has emphatically rejected that label, as she stated in a video interview with Crack Magazine.
“The sad girl thing was reductive and tired like, five, 10 years ago and it still is today. Let’s retire the sad girl shtick. It’s over,” Mitski said.
The “sad girl shtick” does seem to be over in “The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We.” Gone are the days of Mitski shrieking “F**k you and your money” while wailing on her bass guitar like she did nearly 10 years ago on “Drunk Walk Home.” Instead, Mitski’s new album feels quietly confident, with its mellow listenability evoking a sense of peace and resolution. But perhaps that resolution is what strips “The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We” of the intangible power and intimacy of Mitski’s previous work, and leaves the album feeling somewhat emotionally remote in comparison.
“The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We” marks a new chapter in Mitski’s career: one of wisdom scraped together from experience, and reflections on memories both tender and painful. In “The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We,” Mitski has mastered the ability to blend the ethereal and the corporeal, the celestial and the earthly. The album is astoundingly complex, but Mitski remains just a little out of reach in her divine, American land.
—Staff writer Evelyn J. Carr can be reached at email@example.com.
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