’80s synth-inspired bangers, complex sad girl anthems – Mitski has outdone herself.
The acclaimed indie songwriter, Mitski, has an impressive discography of commercial hits like “Nobody” and “Washing Machine Heart” and ruminating, haunting slower songs, all inspired by her background in classical piano composition. Bringing uncommon rhythms and melodies to popular music, Mitski has been bridging the classical, indie and pop worlds since her self-released 2012 album “Lush.” Leaving fans waiting for four years, the arrival of her new album “Laurel Hell” is much anticipated and has a lot to live up to after the massive success of her 2018 work, “Be The Cowboy.” The album can be separated into two distinct vibes; ‘80s-inspired, upbeat pop hits and reflective soundtrack songs.
This album is ruled by synths, particularly in the upbeat songs. Amazingly memorable synth riffs are focal points in songs like “Love Me More” and “The Only Heartbreaker,” also bringing a defined ‘80s sound to the more poppy songs. Mitski has mastered the art of a perfect singalong, with lyrics like “I need you to love me more” and the sing-your-heart-out chorus “there’s nothing I can do, not much I can change, so I give it up to you, I hope that’s okay” that rings through “Heat Lightning.” These three songs pair well together in the middle of the album with their obvious nostalgia, artfully-placed strings and cascading synths. “Working for the Knife,” the first single released for the album, is a departure, adding diving distorted guitars with Mitski’s ever-truthful and introspective lyrics. These dancy songs are bound to be hits, as they all inspire impromptu dancing in your living room.
For the slower songs, “Valentine, Texas” is the highlight. With excellent tension-building chord progressions that honor Mitski’s classical roots, this song has it all and is very well-balanced. Plucky strings accompany reverb-laden vocals like “who will I be tonight” and set the tone for the album as the first track. “Everyone” and “I Guess” both play on the synth-done, adding haunting and soothing textures to the album. As usual, Mitski brings all the drama through ABBA-esque vocal melodies in “There’s Nothing Left For You.” All of the softer songs bring a soundtrack element to “Laurel Hell” that are just as intriguing as the powerful pop tracks.
At times, the vocals lack a defined rhythm for too long, making it difficult for the listener to stay engaged. While spaced-out vocals that lay a bit behind the beat are a Mitski staple, a few songs aren’t very compelling when met with the wrong elements. “Stay Soft” is a prime example of this phenomenon, as the grandiose piano and hi-hat-heavy beat overpower Mitski’s open vocal.
“Should’ve Been Me” and “That’s Our Lamp” also fall short in an aesthetic mismatch crisis. Reminiscent of the “happy-instrumental, depressing-lyric” pairing that The Smiths mastered, both of these end-of-album tracks don’t have great hooks and come across as lacking emotion.
“Laurel Hell” is also entirely bridge-phobic, as the longest song clocks in at three minutes and 47 seconds. However, the short, pop formula is not a detriment to this album and makes the songs highly repeatable. Already the biggest-selling album in America this week, “Laurel Hell” is a must-listen. Enjoy playing “Love Me More” repeatedly until you know it by heart!