On Mitski’s last record, Be The Cowboy (2018), she found herself on top of the indie world with an ever growing fanbase that was selling out tour dates and just about landed on every critics best of list for the year. With that momentum, you would think nothing was going to stop the follow up. Of course, life is always full of challenges and even with success Mitski was not in a great space. That lead to her leaving social media and seriously considering walking away from the music business. Luckily, she had one more album left in her contract and Laurel Hell was produced.
It would have been easy for Mitski to meet her contractual obligations and basically turn in some sub standard songs but thankfully that is not the route she went. Many of the tracks here were written during or before 2018, and she recorded Laurel Hell with her longtime producer Patrick Hyland throughout the pandemic. This extra time to record during isolation gave the songs here new life and meaning as the final output was much more upbeat than initially planned. For the listener, that shift gives fans another glimpse of Mitski’s talent.
That great unknown of what’s next raises its head throughout the record like on opener “Valentine, Texas” when the first lines are “Let’s step carefully into the dark. Once we’re in I’ll remember my way around.” but the track leaves you wondering if it is true. Or, on “Working For The Knife” when Mitski states “I used to think I’d be done by 20. Now at 29 the road ahead appears the same. Though maybe at 30 I’ll see a way to change. That I’m living for the knife.” she very bluntly tells you the head space she has been in. I will be honest and say that the potential of Laurel Hell being Mitski’s last record based on the lyrics seems real but it also gives each song a more dramatic appeal.
Regardless of what the future holds for Mitski, Laurel Hell represents another solid outing for the artist. It is not as tight as Be The Cowboy but her voice is magic on tracks like “Heat Lightning” and “Love Me More” that have a modern day Tori Amos siren vibe to them. The upbeat moves on “The Only Heartbreaker,” “Stay Soft,” and “Should’ve Been Me” fit right into her electric live show and give Laurel Hell its pulse. Hopefully, we have not heard the last from Mitski because this is a record, after several spins, that is just absolutely hard to take out of your rotation!
Key Tracks: “Heat Lightning” / “The Only Heartbreaker” / “Working For The Knife”
Artists With Similar Fire: Tori Amos / St. Vincent / Snail Mail