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Mitski - Laurel Hell Music Album Reviews

Mitski - Laurel Hell Music Album Reviews
Mitski’s sixth album is an austere, nuanced, and disaffected indie-pop record that, in part, addresses her turbulent relationship with her own career.

Mitski sees the world with the ruthless, knowing gaze of someone who grew up too fast. Her cutting acuity is part of what inspires rapture from her fans, who speak about her as if she’s the only person who has ever understood them. It is also what makes her wary of even the most sincere adoration, insisting on distance between herself and her audience. When a fan at a concert screams “I love you,” Mitski, straining to say the truth kindly, replies with pity: “You don’t know me.”

But Mitski thinks the world of her audience too, because they are the reason that she gets to make music. “Thank you all for saving my life,” she addresses the crowd at the end of her show. All of her intensity serves this one creative pursuit, the most remarkable and doomed relationship of her life. For her dreams, she made the usual exorbitant sacrifices: cramming in gig after gig, forgoing a stable residence or health insurance, abandoning other interests or friends. “I will neglect everything else, including me as a person, just to get to keep making music,” she told Pitchfork, ahead of the release of her ascendant fifth album Be the Cowboy, in 2018. By then, she seemed to have made it. She could do music full-time. She could pay for insurance. “Now my goal is to only make music that I feel is necessary for me to make,” she said.

What happens when you realize your dreams and still feel unhappy? On “Working for the Knife,” the arresting lead single and guiding light of her sixth album, Laurel Hell, Mitski reckons with the idea that the grind wasn’t worth it: “I always thought the choice was mine/And I was right, but I just chose wrong.” The song opens with cold, droning synths and clinks that sound like spikes hammered into railroad tracks. It is incredibly potent, filled with contradiction and unease; Mitski’s cool voice intersects with a piano line that sounds slightly off-key, and a clanging guitar springs in suddenly. “At 29, the road ahead appears the same,” she sings, before pivoting to a small, perhaps futile, note of hope. “Maybe at 30, I’ll see a way to change.”

“Working for the Knife” was written in late 2019 after Mitski had left social media and privately decided to quit the music business. Then she realized her label contract required her to make one last album. Instead of handing in Laurel Hell quietly and disappearing, she committed to promoting it, sitting for profiles and reacting to tweets on camera; if it’s not enough to headline her own 48-stop solo tour, she will also be opening arenas for Harry Styles. “Sometimes I think I am free/Until I find I’m back in line again,” she acknowledges on the low-pulsing “Everyone,” before piano chords that glitter like chandeliers whisk the song to a more beautiful place. The album doesn’t shy from Mitski’s disaffectedness, which is apparent even in the vocals, delivered with less brio than on, say, Puberty 2. On “Stay Soft,” Mitski revives the snappy disco of “Nobody” and suggests that numbness is inevitable for someone just trying to survive: “You stay soft, get eaten/Only natural to harden up.”

The songs on Laurel Hell are wispy, less image-dense than before; the longest line in “I Guess,” for example, is six words, like it was written on the back of a napkin. One blazing counterpoint is “Heat Lightning,” a languid ballad about insomnia that sounds like the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs.” “Sleeping eyelid of the sky/Flutters in a dream,” Mitski sings, a spectacular and vivid portrait of 4 a.m. consciousness. Gazing out the window at a liminal hour, she anticipates an oncoming storm, observing trees “swaying in the wind, like sea anemones.” The sweltering air dissipates and the song catches a drift. Hours of restless contemplation lead Mitski to the realization that she must abandon her chosen path, and she sings tenderly, almost religiously: “I surrender.”

The other standout on Laurel Hell is more menacing, less relieved. Opener “Valentine, Texas” introduces us to the album’s abiding metaphor: Mitski returning to her rightful place in the dark. “I’ll show you who my sweetheart’s never met,” she sings, flashing a version of herself that’s brutish like an animal, all “wet teeth and shining eyes.” At first the song is disquietingly minimal, but in a classic Mitski move, it erupts in the middle; the music swirls and coruscates like a snow globe. Hoping a shift in perspective will ease her heaviness, Mitski longs to drive out to where clouds are shaped like mountains: “Let me watch those mountains from underneath,” she sings, “And maybe they’ll finally/Float off of me.”

In press for Laurel Hell, Mitski has distanced herself from the aims of her prior album, where she consciously pivoted to short fiction to prove that her songs were more than confessional outpourings. “I don’t want to make another Be the Cowboy,” she’s said. “I didn’t want to make music that was putting up walls against the listener.” This framing is somewhat misleading because Laurel Hell isn’t necessarily more transparent or revelatory than its predecessor—and in between the woeful reflections on her relationship to music, there are sketches of romantic turbulence that read like stories. “Should’ve Been Me,” a foot-tapping number with Hall & Oates’ blue-eyed pep, could be a sequel to 2018’s arresting “A Pearl”: the partner of an emotionally lost woman can’t break through to her, and so they seek love from someone who’s her spitting image. On “The Only Heartbreaker,” co-written with pop hitmaker Dan Wilson, someone wishes their lover would just fuck up just once, so they’re relieved from always being the bad guy.

It’s an odd coincidence that Laurel Hell contains some of the most commercial-sounding work of Mitski’s career while in interviews she’s wrestled against the industry’s need to distill and market her. In the latter half of Laurel Hell, including on “The Only Heartbreaker,” she embraces ’80s synth-pop so stadium-bright that a collaboration with the Weeknd doesn’t seem that far off. You could argue the flash and bang serves a meta-purpose, like on “Love Me More,” in which Mitski frantically pleads for more nourishment, more reciprocation, just more. “Drown it out, drown me out,” she demands, and the blinding synths fulfill her wishes. But the production has the ultimate effect of anonymizing her, subsuming a first-class songwriter into a tired palette. Mitski has long maintained she values words and melody over instrumentation, and the choices on Laurel Hell can feel like a misuse of her talent.

Laurel Hell went through several iterations over three years, which may explain why the end product feels a bit scattered: big pop numbers next to slow, ambient-leaning passages, narrative capsules next to more plain disclosures. To say that it is the least compelling of her Dead Oceans records is also to acknowledge the stratospheric standard she has set. Laurel Hell still has wrenching lines and artful melodies, proof that Mitski’s every move operates at a baseline level of virtuosity. The existence of the album in and of itself feels climactic. Mitski’s fantasies of leaving music, of destroying everything, didn’t happen overnight. “[If] I could just be a normal healthy person with a regular job, I would do that in a heartbeat,” she told the New York Times in 2016. “I would love to be just happy.”

Of course, it’s never that easy. In the last few minutes of Laurel Hell, Mitski forlornly announces the end, and then reveals her farewell to be the album’s penultimate track. “You say you love me/I believe you do,” Mitski sings on the real closer, “That’s Our Lamp.” “But I walk down and up and down/And up and down this street/’Cause you just don’t like me/Not like you used to.” It plays like a classic lover’s quarrel, set to jubilant disco in the vein of “Dancing Queen.” The mood all but guarantees a happy ending, and you can predict how this one goes: Mitski and music, the remarkable and doomed lovers, giving things one last shot.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Mitski - Laurel Hell Music Album Reviews Mitski - Laurel Hell Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, February 09, 2022 Rating: 5

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