To the surprise and excitement of Mitski’s worldwide fans, the critically acclaimed singer-songwriter announced earlier this summer the release of her seventh studio album, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We. After the success of her previous two albums, Be the Cowboy and Laurel Hell, which propelled Mitski into new sonic territory and a whole new level of fame, her first single for her latest project, “Bug Like an Angel” pointed towards a very different sound. Mitski has never been afraid of taking artistic risks, playing with a variety of sounds from stripped-back piano ballads to heart-pounding noise rock to disco revival. Therefore, it’s no surprise her latest album finds her in a new “land,” so to speak. With her signature incisive lyrics, lush instrumentation, and stunning production, Mitski’s latest collection of songs is both deeply personal and shockingly sweeping—a stark and beautiful display from an ever-evolving artist at the top of her game.
Album opener and lead single “Bug Like An Angel” took a bit to grow on me, much like the opener to her previous album, “Valentine, Texas.” Both songs start with little instrumentation and serve as a spotlight on Mitski’s voice and strengths as a lyricist. However, this sparse beginning soon explodes with a choir on backing vocals, introducing listeners to the ways in which Mitski explores the tension between her intimate, almost confessional storytelling as a songwriter and the explosive heights the music itself reaches. The folky ballad, bolstered by acoustic guitar, hints at the sonic direction of the album—both insular and sprawling, the lyrics also echo this, playing with the juxtaposition between minute details, like the bug at the bottom of her glass, and existential musings on broken promises.
The second track, “Buffalo Replaced,” is a perfect distillation of everything I love about this record. I’ve frequently described this album as “Mitski for Mazzy Star fans,” as it encapsulates the dusty, wind-swept brand of dreamy folk-rock that the beloved 90s band is best known for. The percussive drone drives the track forward, while the dazzling synths in the instrumental break add a haunting dreaminess. As the song fades out, Mitski’s vocals dance over a piano-driven melody, as the perfect bookend to a song; she uses the imagery of wide-open spaces and a “freight train horn howlin’ out mad and wild,” to explore her complicated relationship with hope and love.
“Heaven” again engages with nature imagery, like in the lines,“Now I bend like a willow thinking of you / Like a murmuring brook curving about you / As I sip on the rest of the coffee you left.” These images create a sense of warmth and comfort as she attempts to hold on to this small piece of heaven. In the second verse, when Mitski sings of a storm raging outside, it is these similes of trees and streams that feel like they have the power to protect her. However, it feels like a desperate attempt—the surge of strings in the middle of the song and the end sound like the singer attempting to recapture a feeling of the past that is just out of reach.
“The Deal” is another stand-out track, which confronts one of the album’s major themes—the hardships of living with oneself, and the loneliness that can make one’s mind a haunted place. This is explored most explicitly on “I Don’t Like My Mind,” but I prefer the more oblique treatment of this on “The Deal.” Mitski’s lyricism shines the most when she balances inventive extended conceits with simplistic revelations, and this is true for “The Deal.” The production on the driving percussion outro, complimented again with strings, leads to the instrumentation sounding just barely restrained. With stunning tempo changes and the repetition of the phrase “There’s a deal that I made” driving towards the conclusion, this is one of the album’s most propulsive tracks. The imagery of the speaker’s soul as a bird and body as a cage is especially striking, emphasizing the idea of freedom from oneself being a double-edged sword.
Memories, the mind, and loneliness haunt the album, while nature and the land itself become just as inhospitable. The contrasting quiet and noise in many of the songs is indicative of the power that Mitski’s music fits into a shockingly short time frame—her longest track on this record is just under 4 minutes. Tracks such as “When Memories Snow” use metaphor to make interiority visceral and physical, with the image of shoveling memories like snow, and the way they stick around, the sound of thoughts dripping like melting snow, are bolstered by haunting wails from the horns.
“My Love Mine All Mine” is a gorgeous, subtly devastating love song, reclaiming the idea of love in the face of the fear we may associate with it. I especially enjoy how this song really allows Mitski’s voice to shine, putting the writing front and center, and the way that it is a stunning testament to the lasting power of love, powerful in its simplicity. “I’m Your Man” has one of my favorite outros ever—this time with barking dogs providing some of the most harrowing backing vocals I’ve ever heard. Album closer “I Love Me After You” feels like a fitting conclusion to the record, with Mitski seeming to finally come to terms with herself and the record’s themes of loneliness and the fear associated with hope or love—the declaration of “Let the darkness see me” feels particularly powerful. The album closes with the line “I’m king of all the land,” and it feels like a statement of acceptance of the vastness of space, of loneliness, and of the self, perfectly accented with a haunting drone and reverb.
The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We is a record that looks inward while reckoning with the landscape that perpetually surrounds us. Many of the songs are existential conversations with oneself, continuing the themes of loneliness that Mitski explored on Laurel Hell. Rather than approaching this through glossy, darkly danceable tracks and haunting synths, Mitski uses the wide-open sounds of acoustic guitars, strings, and choral harmonies to evoke space and emptiness. There is a sense of distance evoked here, especially through her use of figurative language that plays with the juxtaposition between the body and the land, and the blending of the earthly and the celestial. Her recurring images of angels, stars, and divine judgment are accompanied by those of bugs, dogs, and howling trains.
Mitski’s The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We is ultimately a cohesive artistic vision that refuses to sacrifice either lyrical poetics or lush instrumentation. As she sings on “Star,” which muses on a love that has since moved on, like the light of a fading star, she promises to “keep a leftover light burning” as a reminder. The song closes with the unanswered question of “Isn’t that worth holding on?” The answer is, ultimately, “Yes.” Even in the face of loneliness, fear, and the reality of one’s own mind, it is love, and hope, that make life hospitable. So Mitski and listeners can let the darkness see them, because there is something here that is worth holding tight.
Senior Lexi Weaver is a Copy Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.