The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We
The land is inhospitable and so are we. A clunky title perhaps, but that doesn’t diminish its pertinence as an observation of today’s world. You could be living under a rock and still have some cognizance of the myriad challenges modern society faces from political upheaval, environmental crises and endless conflicts battled on social media. It can be suffocating to existence both in real and virtual spaces. With regards to the latter, in particular, no one knows this more than Mitski who has long left behind life online with their social media serving purely as a platform for information about upcoming releases and performances. Such is required for artists of Mitski’s stature; you have to be seen to be present and available to everyone.
The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We follows shortly after Laurel Hell, an album that expanded upon Be the Cowboy’s synthier sonic disposition, albeit adding more darkness to the illuminating pop melodies. Mitski’s latest material, however, changes pace and temperament again, this time exploring a sometimes softer, more sentimental mood with wistful country inflected instrumentation. Interestingly, she prefaced the work as her “Most American album,” in how she observed the duality of her surroundings: the combined pain and promise that permeates the land that invented The American Dream. Yet, the journey one takes towards that false promise is never as gratifying or straightforward as it’s made out to be. From the offset, The Land Is Inhospitable’s opening song “Bug Like An Angel” demonstrates how lonely and punishing that process can be. To a stripped-back arrangement of an acoustic guitar, Mitski intimately recounts her relationship with alcohol, how a drink can feel like “family”, which is given extra weight with the backing of 17 vocalists (echoing the often communal nature of drinking, an attempt to drown out silence or solitude). Later in the song, she sings, “Did you go and make promises you can’t keep / Well when you break them they break you right back / Amateur mistake / Well you can take it from me, they break you right back”.
Lyrically, Mitski has always been forthcoming in sketching a portrait of herself and her life in her songs. That’s as prevalent on her seventh album as ever on the stunning “Heaven” and haunting “When Memories Snow”, and the striking closer “I Love Me After You” in which she casually details her skincare routine in the opening verse. And while this element to her songwriting remains the same, the tonality of these eleven tracks is where we see artistic
experimentation with these extraordinary and exquisite arrangements. Alongside longtime collaborator Patrick Hyland, Mitski incorporates a much lusher 1960s-inspired orchestration as a foundation for the record. Within that, too, there’s a gorgeous palette of wistful pedal steel, sweet and subtle percussion and acoustic guitar and sweeping strings which often herald the likes of Patsy Cline on the “The Frost”, which is explored with great nuance in melding familiar melodic structures and tones but presenting them with a very Mitski voice. Elsewhere, we feel influences of PJ Harvey on “I’m Your Man” or Fiona Apple’s Fetch The Bolt Cutters in the opening section of “When Memories Snow”.
“I blast music out loud and I work myself to the bone,” Mitski intones on “I Don’t Like My Mind” before pleading, “So please don’t take, take my job from me.” Across her music, it has always been apparent how vital creating is to her. Often when listening to Mitski sing about feelings of being alone or in love and the pros and cons that go hand-in-hand with those contrasting states of being, it always felt more as though she was talking about music more than a romantic partner. A few songs later, on the sophisticated production of “My Love All Mine”, a pretty pop ballad which is cast with a melancholic Karen Carpenter-shaped shadow, hears Mitski sing “Nothing in the world belongs to me but my love, mine all mine.”
Sonically, the shift between Laurel Hell and The Land Is Inhospitable also evokes that of Angel Olsen moving between the equally enveloping and dramatic world of All Mirrors to the much more richly textured orchestration and immensely moving themes of Big Time. The slower pace and sparser soundscapes suit Mitski’s cadence (although, across her seven LPs, which have succeeded in their variety, are all suitable companions to her impressive range) in a way that almost reintroduces her to fans and no doubt will garner the attention of those coming to her music for the first time.
There are so many moments of sheer beauty – musically and in the vivid imagery Mitski conjures in her lyrics (“Now I bend like a willow, thinking about you”) – which makes you want to delve deeper into every minute detail of the songs. “Star”, for example, conjures a different mood to the rest of the album. Infinitely vast in its breadth, the ascending synths and steady drums, transport you to another dimension altogether. On first listen, I tried to decipher exactly what the combined orchestral composition and celestial electronic counterpart reminded me of. Eventually, I came to Supertramp’s 1974 LP Crime of The Century, whose artwork of hands clutching prison bars in a twinkling night sky strangely befit The Land Is Inhospitable’s mood.
This is a really fascinating shift in Mitski’s output, one that already makes you even more intrigued to see where she’ll go next. What she has to say and how that will sound. The land and a lot of the people inhabiting it may be inhospitable, but it’s nice to have something – a walk out in nature, the company of loved ones, a good album – to present some kind of alternative existence.
Pre-order The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We by Mitski HERE
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