What does Mitski sound like?
This time around, Mitski is channelling her symphonic country-tinged pop-rock side.
The review of Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We
Almost every Mitski album takes on a different musical palette and hue; her latest is no exception. Having started off in piano pop via emo indie trappings, Mitski moved into full-blown rock sensation before mixing in a poppier side last time out with ‘Laurel Hell’. Her music feels a little less indie production-wise each time, but the inner indie songwriter is ever-present. It’s that quirk and delightful embrace of slightly unusual songwriting that makes a Mitski album stand out.
Country is a running sub-genre across the album but it opens with an acoustic gospel number ‘Bug Like an Angel’. Between the euphoric explosion of backing vocals that resonate like shocks to the system, an intimate and minimalistic piano and acoustic guitar four-chord progression noodle away freely. It is so simple on the surface but that allows you to explore the emotional depths Mitski mines. Heavier electro-acoustic ‘Buffalo Replaced’ is more shoegazery with its taut angst and staunch stance. This an album full of wax and wanes and this is a wax on track.
Elsewhere, leaning fully into the orchestral country vibe is the bitter-sweet ‘Heaven’. With a waltzing skip in its sway, it sounds like Mitski’s vocals are recorded in room to sound slightly hollow and lonely against its bombastic symphonic moments. Much of the vocal delivery reminds me of early Mitski albums and this does often feel like a nod to the earlier styles of Mitski, with a post ‘Be The Cowboy’ sound palette. That allows her to be creative in succinct surprises, such as the band fading away to allow the final outro to be entirely a bustling orchestra. ‘I Don’t Like My Mind’ is a sister song sonically to ‘Heaven’, with a Rhinestone twang and twisted chords of melodrama. However, I absolutely approve of the lyrics of comfort eating. Declaring “A whole cake, just for me… don’t take that joy away from me” – this is exactly how I feel when I eat my mood. It also touches on the theme of overindulgence and you’ll find that popping up lyrically across the album. Maybe that’s why the land is inhospitable…
Flipping back to Mitski’s love of unusual production and songwriting decisions, ‘The Deal’ is a great example of this. On the surface, this track starts as a whimsical and confessional brushed acoustic track, that transforms into a thick, dense orchestral number for the choruses. The last minute turns the track from a barn ballad into a rowdy crescendo of freestyle drums. It erupts into a visceral percussiongaze whiteout of white. It’s just not where you think the track will go at all and it’s those kinds of surprises that Mitski excels in. ‘When Memories Snow’ sounds like a track from ‘Be The Cowboy’. Short, proud, affirming and cinematic with its trumpets, choir and rich string arrangements, it is a 104-second funfair. It sounds like Karen Carpenter has returned.
Channelling her inner Bic Runga, Mitski moves back to classic 60s rock mixed with a Western twang. ‘My Love Mine All Mine’ is an elegant bluesy ballad with pianos emulating honky tonks and organs thick as molasses allowing for a calm, warm and cosy feeling to envelope the song. ‘The Frost’ is possibly the most overtly country track on the album. My country knowledge is minimal but I can feel some Patsy Cline hiding away here in the way it is delivered. After a few tracks to lull you back into a shell, ‘Star’ raises you back out again. This light and airy track is an absolute revelation as countless instruments seep in like a garden coming back to life. It is so cinematic and bountiful with joy, that it is possibly the happiest peak of the album.
Reminding me of recent PJ Harvey indie-folk albums, ‘I’m Your Man’ greets us with a muted percussive rumble, soft finger-strummed guitars, an untreated soft Mitski vocal… and a collection of barking dogs. Yes, we’ve got cicadas but the last minute of this insanely catchy number, perfect the pub, has plenty of barks from our furry friends. The track is self-deprecating – chewing over how being left on her own after love goes south. Making light of the dark feels so effortless with Mitski and she charms her way through the album with this tactic. Whilst all that darkness and internal eye-rolling has been a journey, Mitski sounds hopeful and assured by the album’s end. ‘I Love Me After You’ is the rowdy final, only really rivalled in rockiness by ‘Buffalo Replaced’. They are at opposite ends of the journey but now, we sing of self love and confidence, wandering around the house naked and free.
Never dull and ever-changing, there is a lot packed into 32 minutes. Mitski delivers another powerhouse of emotional rollercoastering, this time through symphonic country-tinged rock. Whilst the genre has changed, the passion stays the same and you’ll be hanging off every word and skewed note just like previous releases. This is a perfectly pitched story arc with a gratifying sonic narrative. I love it when an artist understands the art of making a rounded album and that’s what we get here. Superb.
Recommended track: I’m Your Man
Support Higher Plain Music
Higher Plain Music is part of the Higher Plain Network – a one-man indie media project. If you like what I do, please consider supporting me via Patreon for as little as $1/£1 a month. In return, you’ll receive additional perks for supporting me, such as behind-the-scenes content and free downloads. You can also donate using PayPal. Sharing the website helps too or using the affiliate buy now links on reviews. I receive a few pence per Amazon sale. All your support will enable me to produce better content, more often. I’d love to make this a full-time media network and your support can make that happen. Thank you.