“Laurel Hell” and Mitski’s Triumphant Return to Music

Amy Zhou and Emilia Ferreira

Falcon Rating: 4/5 Falcons

Japanese-American singer and songwriter Mitski’s name is a need-to-know in the indie music scene. Her emotional writing and stripped-down instrumentation make her a fan favorite. Her songs are centered around the emotions that people often bury shame, rage, heartbreak, longing, misery, disappointment, and embarrassment. In 2019, Mitski announced that she would be quitting music due to how demanding the music industry is. However, to the delight of her strong fanbase, in early 2020 she decided to return to music and release a new album, Laurel Hell, on February 4th, 2022.

This latest album marks a new era of Mitski’s growth. Her music still has the familiar melancholy aura to it, but with an older, more mature twist. If her past albums, like Be the Cowboy and Bury Me at Makeout Creek, are the musical embodiment of emotional growing pains, then Laurel Hell is the grown-up acceptance letter. Laurel Hell expresses lessons learned (“Stay Soft”), being exploited by the music industry  (“Working for the Knife”), and moving on (“I Guess”), which stray from the familiar tones of her past albums and sets up a new vision of growth.

Laurel Hell is conceptually and musically a strong addition to Mitski’s repertoire.

However, the album still calls back to Mitski’s notorious emotional themes, such as yearning (“Love Me More”), loss (“Should’ve Been Me”), and emptiness (“There’s Nothing Left For You”). Laurel Hell is an echo to the foundation of her music career, tying together her original theme of youthful angst alongside maturing into adulthood. Of all her songs from Laurel Hell, “Heat Lightning” is a personal favorite. The beginning of the song is slow-paced but speeds up until it reaches the climax. The instrumentals become louder to drown out Mitski’s voice, symbolizing her resignation. The song takes a complete shift of tone, becoming increasingly more ethereal with electronic notes and dejected lyrics. “Heat Lightning” is a musical representation of experiencing loss and turning it into something tolerable. Listeners struggling with hard times can find solace in the track and be assured that in the end, everything will be okay.

Another fan favorite is “Valentine, Texas,” the album’s first track. The synthesized instrumentals are cohesive with the rest of the album, while her voice at the beginning is reminiscent of her earlier works. Halfway through, the song soars into a louder sound, carrying the rest of the song with newfound confidence. Mitski describes revisiting a familiar scene where she revisits songwriting and returns into the public eye, rediscovering herself. “Valentine, Texas” balances bittersweet, happier, and more somber tones, artfully introducing the more mature perspective Mitski is writing Laurel Hell from.

To those who loved Mitski’s subtler instruments, the new album may come as a disappointment. Regardless, Laurel Hell shows a strength in songwriting that many artists encounter when they take a break and find a new voice. Laurel Hell is conceptually and musically a strong addition to Mitski’s repertoire, showcasing her talent.

This piece also appears in our March 2022 print edition.