From Heaven to “Laurel Hell”: Mitski’s Sixth Album


Mitsuki Myawaki, known by the world as Mitski, released her 6th studio album titled “Laurel Hell” through Dead Oceans on February 4th, 2022. From the opening line of the album, Mitski presents a display of eerie yet empyrean vocals in “Valentine, Texas”, “Let’s step carefully into the dark/ Once we’re in I’ll remember my way around.” As she promises, the album serves to be a transcendental voyage through an ever-relatable mind, a mind plagued by insecurity, regret, and exhaustion.

Vulnerability proves to be a mask that’s hard to uncover. Mitski approaches her songs with a nuanced vulnerability, revealing her inner emotions by acknowledging she hides them. Within “Stay Soft, her third track, she sings, “Open up your heart/ Like the gates of hell/ You stay soft, get beaten/ Only natural to harden up”, forcing listeners to confront a general discomfort surrounding vulnerability and to have an understanding that it’s natural to want to harden up as a result. Similarly, the song in its entirety describes a  toxic coping mechanism to pain. Mitski sings in light tones above heavy beats reminiscent of a beating heart, presenting a similar aura of anxiety in a constantly moving setting present in her well-known single “Nobody”. The repetition of the word “nobody” in the single parallels the repetition of “stay soft”; both are an echo within their songs. A strong echo occurs when someone yells in a hollowed environment, usually one of isolation. As such, Mitski’s repetition shows that her emotions, like an echo, are not responded to readily, they only bounce back to her, further inducing any negative effects. Mitski’s lyrics are littered with conflicting and difficult emotions. These lyrics, paired with a diverse array of chord progressions, attract many of her fans, who yearn for someone to present the nuanced emotions they hold.

What could have been? A question permanently etched into our minds is a recurring theme within the album. In the opening lines of her 7th track, “Love Me More”, Mitski reminisces, “If I keep myself at home/ I won’t make the same mistake/ That I made for 15 years/ I could be a new girl/ I will be a new girl.” Interestingly, “Love Me More” had been through the most iterations until everything lined up when ostinato fit over the chord progressions. An ostinato, a continually repeated musical phrase, brings forth the themes of the lyrics. The music engulfs the listener in the same music over and over again until they feel slightly frozen in time within the peace. Mitski wishes to go back to the past and change herself completely. As she feels trapped inside of her past self who had the choice to change everything, she traps her listener under the music of the ostinato, and as a whole, both singer and listener confront their regrets. 

In an album full of introspection, Mitski turns to the viewpoint of another in “Should’ve Been Me”. While the ninth track has seemingly jovial beats, the lyrics are contradictory to the tune. Mitski laments about a partner who loves a girl who looks like her but isn’t really her. She sings, “ I haven’t given you what you need/ You wanted me, but you couldn’t reach me”. Even while in a relationship, she feels alone because of her emotional unavailability, hence her partner’s inability to reach her. Just as she did within Stay Soft, and a multitude of her tracks, Mitski once again opens up about her struggles with vulnerability, which paradoxically, is Mitski’s way of showcasing her vulnerability to her listeners. 

Mitski lays her heart on the table for observation once again, and as her listeners piece together the story her album tells, they realize they’re unraveling their own story with their emotions. On the cover of her album, Mitski lies with her eyes closed, hands reached up, yearning for more, crimson red lips and hair splayed out, a slightly ethereal and gazed look. Similarly, the album presents an out-of-body experience, mixing synth-pop, indie pop, and electro-rock, pulling influence from the sounds of the 1980s. It’s a definite listen for anyone who wishes to learn about themselves.