After years of waiting and a recent steady string of singles, Mitski has dropped her widely anticipated album, “Laurel Hell.” The project wrestles with topics and insecurities having to do with the complex nature of relationships and the pressures of being an artist and a part of the music industry. It’s presented in a way where Mitski addresses that these themes aren’t black and white; there’s no true good or bad side in the situations she alludes to.
This can be shown in the form of songs like “The Only Heartbreaker,” detailing how the antagonist of a relationship might not align with their intentions or be a result of miscommunication, or “There’s Nothing Left For You”, showing someone who has nothing else to give up, which could be interpreted as emotion, art, love, or music, emulating a feeling of emptiness.
Speaking of this feeling, the instrumentals are generally effective in conveying and supporting the emotion Mitski is touching on. The project’s influences range from folk, synth pop, new age, and much more. The heightened scale of these instrumentals taking on a bigger than life persona make each piece almost seem orchestral.
Going back to “There’s Nothing Left To You”, it’s minimal production leading up to its sudden release of energy, along with Mitski’s somber vocals make for this haunting, skeletal piece. While “Stay Soft”’s subject of coping with unhealthy relationships contrasts from its danceable, colorful beat, “Heat Lightning” is a prefect combination of its lyrics about forgiving both sides of a relationship and using insomnia as a metaphor for this and the steady, dreamy background that goes along with it.
While the concept of these songs are creative and intriguing in theory, the execution can be lacking on some fronts. Notably, it can sometimes feel like songs end abruptly or feel like it’s building up to something that never happens. While “Working For The Knife” has a clear progression, it abruptly stops as if the story is left on a frustrating cliffhanger.
The instrumentals which Mitski chooses for her piece can also feel off, like the outro track “That’s Our Lamp” being an awkward combination of her heavily echoing vocals and the tighter, pop-inspired rhythms she sings over. It’s mixing feels like two conflicting styles at war with each other.
Despite every song here not being as equally well-executed, “Laurel Hell” showcases Mitski’s ability to create pieces with gripping tales and complex emotion, displaying that her skill as a songwriter still holds up.
Consensus: Like the flowers that inspired the title, “Laurel Hell” shows Mitski drowning in beauty and its toxicity in a project that doesn’t always stick the landing.