Mitski: Laurel Hell (Dead Oceans) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, March 21st, 2023  


Laurel Hell

Dead Oceans

Feb 01, 2022 Issue #69 - 20th Anniversary Issue Bookmark and Share

Laurel Hell, the latest album from Mitski, was over three years in the making. Several songs were written before or during 2018, the same time Be the Cowboy catapulted her to indie stardom. Yet while that breakthrough was a grand statement of female empowerment, Laurel Hell is grounded in the details of imperfect relationships and mistakes compounded. “Everyone said don’t go that way,” Mitski sings on “Everyone” over a pulsing synth that feels like a ticker. Naturally, she doesn’t listen: “So, of course, to that I said/I think I’ll go that way.” Mitksi wants to remind us that she isn’t perfect, that she makes mistakes, that she’s human.

Fans who have followed the artist’s trajectory won’t exactly be surprised by the musical direction of Laurel Hell, which was produced and recorded by regular collaborator Patrick Hyland. The songs are shinier, the arrangements more elegant, Mitski’s voice more aching than ever. “Stay Soft” and “That’s Our Lamp” evoke the quiet glamorous disco of Be the Cowboy standout “Nobody.” Elsewhere, gritty guitars are exchanged for bouncing synths and dramatic piano lines. Lines like the ones that decorate opener “Valentine, Texas,” where Mitski details an evening to visit the song’s namesake (“Let’s step carefully into the dark,” she sings). On “Heat Lightning,” crescendos of rumbling percussion and twinkling glistening keys showcase Mitski at her most contemplative and ominous.

The examination of love’s power dynamics lies at the core of Laurel Hell, a theme that also drives the recent release Valentine by Snail Mail. Yet while Lindsey Jordan focuses on the self-destructive aftermath of heartbreak, Mitski’s approach feels more collected, albeit no less insightful. On the effervescent single “The Only Heartbreaker,” Mitski confidently takes on the title’s role, declaring “So I’ll be the loser in this game/I’ll be the bad guy in the play.” Nevertheless, there’s a pain in her voice, a knowing reluctance. Being the dumper sucks just as much as being the dumpee. Indeed, Mitski’s offering of different perspectives is one of the defining strength of Laurel Hell. The jaunty album standout “Should’ve Been Me,” for example, sees her thrown into a head-spin upon finding her lover cheating with someone just like her. This reality presses on a very real pain of rejection; yes, the other couldn’t accept everything about you, especially your flaws.

Laurel Hell ends with the grooving “That’s Our Lamp,” where Mitski documents the final moments of an ending relationship. “You say you love me/I believe you do,” she sings, yet seconds later admits the truth: “‘Cause you just don’t like me/Not like you used to.” The key to the song, like everywhere else on Laurel Hell, is Mitski’s delivery. Her vocals are bright yet melancholic, hopeful yet knowing. Sometimes, love isn’t enough to hold things together, but that doesn’t make anyone involved a bad person. Mitski reminds us to be kinder to ourselves. (

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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