The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Mitski has returned from her nearly four-year-long hiatus with an album that has broken hearts and mended them back together all within the span of 32 minutes and 31 seconds. This is an ode to Laurel Hell and everything about Mitski’s singing and songwriting that just reminds me how powerful and beautiful music is.
Laurel Hell, the sixth studio album by the Japanese-American singer-songwriter, Mitski, was released on February 4, 2022, through the American record label, Dead Oceans. The title ‘Laurel Hell’ is a folk term for being trapped in thickets of laurel, a plant that grows along with forest floors. The saying ‘laurel hell’ is infamous since laurel thickets are known for being very hard to get out of once you’re stuck. The sounds of this album are heavily influenced by 1980s pop, while also incorporating synth and electronic rock. Mitski is known for her dark, entrancing music that tackles life and all that comes with it in brutally raw and honest ways. She is also revered for her incredibly written lyrics that feel like poems straight from her soul into yours which when presented alongside minimalist backtracks and her graceful voice, is enough to make you feel as though you are being pulled into her mind.
In Variety Magazine, Mitski describes this new album as a way for her to break through the facade of public perception, explaining, “I needed love songs about real relationships that are not power struggles to be won or lost. I needed songs that could help me forgive both others and myself.”
This is an album, that while tackling the serious issues she is known for, is presented in a new upbeat pop side to her that fans are not used to. Mitski’s discography has a reputation of being eerie and dark, and this is a refreshing come back to present a new phase of her music and herself. Almost like a clean slate, it truly embodies forgiveness and breaking free of the public’s daunting expectations.
Laurel Hell features 11 songs, many of which were released prior to the album’s debut. The tracklist opens with ‘Valentine, Texas,’ and with its message of inviting listeners to “step into the dark” and understand what it means to have an animalistic desire to be loved. At the other end of the tracklist, ‘That’s Our Lamp,’ is an upbeat pop ballad about the intertwined feelings of relief and fear when going through a breakup. The contrast between these two songs is both mesmerizing and heartbreaking in the way that makes you feel as if you watched a relationship begin and slowly reach its end.
The top singles, and my personal favourites, are ‘Working For The Knife’ and ‘Love Me More.’ ‘Working For The Knife’ is transformative- starting off slow and building into a bursting feeling of being alive. The music video mirrors this approach, beginning with dark mysterious shots before leading to Mitski’s passionate, modern dance routine. The song is about the experiences of being in your 20s, feeling disoriented as you lose sight of the goals you once set for yourself when you were younger:
Hearing this line, as a 20-year-old, and remembering all the goals I had planned to accomplish by now, resonates on such a deep level, and yet amidst the feelings of grief, I do not find myself feeling quite so lost. At first, I thought this single was simply sad, but there is a level of comfort knowing that a successful artist is not foreign to these conventional feelings, and has been able to word them in a profound way.
‘Love Me More’ is a complete shift into exciting electropop sounds and lyrics you want to yell along to. The song is about the sheer relief and elation that comes with being validated, and how the desire to receive such acceptance is much greater than caring about how desperate and pathetic you sound. With such a quick-paced melody, you feel sucked into the desperation one feels when they crave to be validated so much to the point that they cannot exist without it. The way the lyrics are so repetitive makes it feel like a direct cry from the heart, making the song feel that much more powerful.
This is an album that composes art around seemingly mundane topics of love and life but in a way that is so heart-wrenching and alluring. I have had Laurel Hell on a constant loop since its release, and I urge anyone reading this to give it a listen and better yet, check out the rest of Mitski’s music as well. Her discography and the world of her mind is laurel hell on its own, and I would be lying if I said I ever wanted to be freed from these thickets.