Album Reviews

Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We

(Dead Oceans) UK release date: 15 September 2023

Feeling like something of a reset, the follow-up to Laurel Hell, like all the best albums, keeps you on edge, never quite knowing what’s coming next

Mitski - The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We It wasn’t so long ago that the rumours were swirling that Mitski was about to take that dreaded phrase “an indefinite hiatus”. After the release of 2019’s Be The Cowboy, she openly mused on how she wanted to “find another life”, and both that record and its follow-up Laurel Hell showed her inching towards a more commercial, synth-driven sound. While it suited her (lest we forgot, Nobody is one of the best pop singles of the modern era), as an intensely private person who’s always seemed a bit ill at ease with the more performative aspects of fame, it seemed as though something had to give eventually.

For that reason, The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We (what a title, by the way) feels like a bit of a reset. It’s not exactly Mitski gone back to basics, but the opening, gently strummed acoustic guitar on Bug Like An Angel signals that this is a new phase in Mitski’s career. It’s quiet, hushed and intimate, which makes the enormous choral vocal that chimes in on the word “family” sound all the more effective.

Despite the lack of synths though, Mitski’s seventh album isn’t a lo-fi or raw affair. Some of the arrangements are absolutely gorgeous, such as the gently swaying The Frost with its mournful pedal steel, or the haunting country ballad that Heaven blossoms into. The Deal switches from a fragile, bittersweet ballad before building into an intense orchestral cacophony. Like all the best albums, it keeps you on edge, never quite knowing what’s coming next.

There are nods to Angel Olsen‘s more recent work at times, and sometimes Lana Del Rey‘s swoonsome arrangements (no surprise when Drew Erickson, Del Rey’s frequent collaborator, is amongst the credits as arranger and conductor). Buffalo Replaced is slightly doomy Americana, full of lyrical imagery alluding to highways and freight trains, while the wonderful I Don’t Like My Mind works both as a portrait of an anxiety-ridden brain and Mitski’s own issues with the music industry over the last few years (“Please don’t take my job away from me” she softly intones towards the end of the song).

There’s no song over four minutes long on the album, and that brevity is really effective – the lovely My Love Mine All Mine is just over two minutes, and you want to play it again as soon as it finishes. The mood starts to darken towards the end of the record, when I’m Your Man throws down self-lacerating lyrics like “you believe me like a God, I destroy you like I am” and ends with the sound of dogs barking – it’s like a less raw but equally unsettling cousin of PJ Harvey‘s Rid Of Me.

It’s all worlds away from the exhilarating guitar shred of the likes of My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars or the handclapping pop genius of Washing Machine Heart or Nobody, but The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We is a record that demonstrates Mitski’s impressive range. It’s also an album that, had she stuck to her original plan of retirement in 2019, may not even exist. We should be very grateful she changed her plans.

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Mitski – The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We
Mitski – Laurel Hell
Mitski – Be The Cowboy
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