Mitski dials up tempo, keeps the vulnerability with new album ‘Laurel Hell’

Dead Oceans

Dead Oceans

By Ruby Thompson, Reporter

On Feb. 4, after a two-year hiatus, Japanese-American indie-rock singer Mitski came out with her sixth studio album: “Laurel Hell,” released through Dead Oceans. Like her previous albums, each song is rich with the emotion and vulnerability that has attracted her listeners time and time again. But unlike previous albums, this one comes with a number of upbeat and synth-pop songs, taking the overall tone of her music in a new direction. 

However, that’s not to say making upbeat songs about emotional and intense topics is completely new for Mitski. The 31-year-old began releasing music in 2012, and for six years played with downbeat music and rock genres until 2018, when she released her album “Be the Cowboy,” dipping her toes into the pool of pop music. 

“Be the Cowboy” included some of her most well-known songs (that gained particular popularity on TikTok), including “Nobody,” which explores loneliness and the desire for companionship, and “Washing Machine Heart” — both alternative pop songs with over 170 million streams on Spotify.

But in “Laurel Hell,” Mitski takes this a step further by exploring new genres like electronic rock and synth pop. Some of the highlights of this album include “The Only Heartbreaker,” ”Love Me More,” ”That’s Our Lamp” and “Stay Soft,” where she incorporates catchy beats and synth into her pieces on love, nostalgia and vulnerability. They’re not ‘crying in your room at 3 a.m.’ type of songs, but they still achieve that same emotional depth — you would just rather dance to it instead. 

In the music video for “The Only Heartbreaker,” Mitski, panicked and fear-stricken, runs through a forest alone, as she watches everything she touches begin to burn. She sings “if you would just make one mistake, what a relief that would be,” and continues to repeat, “I’ll be the only heartbreaker,” as the trees in the forest blacken all around her, going up in flames. The imagery of the forest fire is meant to be a metaphor for her self-destructive nature in relationships. 

This song will resonate with you if you are someone trying to come to terms with your flaws and imperfections, as Mitksi uses this piece as a way to take responsibility for the fact that she’s the bad guy or the problem in this relationship; she’s not trying to explain away anything, but rather, she’s accepting the fact that the one inflicting the sadness or “heartbreak” in the relationship is her. 

“That’s Our Lamp” is also a tale of heartbreak. Mitski describes herself fleeing her apartment, running down the street because as much as she wants to believe her partner when they say they love her, she feels their love is coming to an end — a fitting song for the last title in the album. Like the album’s other songs, the tone is happier than Mitski fans may expect, as she reminisces on times when their love was strong. As with “The Only Heartbreaker,” there’s no indication of resentment or ill-will, just a bittersweet fondness for the past.

But if you prefer a slower or more melancholic feel to your music, I’d also highly recommend “Heat Lightning” or “Valentine, Texas.” The vocals and instrumentals in the latter are otherworldly, transporting you to a vivid memory where she imagines being liberated from the mountain-like clouds that float above her. “Heat Lightning” also explores accepting that bad things will eventually come, but instead of fighting something she can’t change, she chooses to surrender to it. 

If you’re someone looking for upbeat music that can resonate deep within your soul, “Laurel Hell” is definitely worth a stream.