Mitski’s Laurel Hell: Worth the Wait?


Mitski’s Laurel Hell album cover sets the mood for the new era.

“Let’s step carefully into the dark,” sings Mitski as the eerie music of the opening track “Valentine, Texas” begins to resonate.

After four years of radio silence, the hit indie musician returned to the spotlight with her new album, Laurel Hell. She named the album after the beautiful yet deadly Laurel Hell thickets in the Appalachians. “I liked the notion of being stuck inside this explosion of flowers and perhaps even dying within one of them,” shares Mitski to Pitchfork. And really, it’s a fitting name–Mitski’s mournful melodies paired with 80s synth-inspired music works as its own Laurel Hell, equal parts dreamy and distressing. 

Mitski has been known for her upbeat tunes paired with depressing, personal lyrics (you may have heard “Strawberry Blond” or “Washing Machine Heart,” two of her biggest hits), but in this album, she does so in a different way. She sings about love, about not being able to return it, and about craving it. She shares her anxieties paired with her fears of wasting her life. And, of course, she sings about loneliness. But the album is a fair mix of slow, gut-wrenching melodies and upbeat bops emulating the pop-artist image she hates. It’s a different sound, one clearly targeted for her conflicting fanbase, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. Mitski sounds mature and knowledgeable but also confused and simply trying to please. Somehow, that makes an addictive balance. 

Although her music is rarely (if ever) one to skip, there are a few stand-outs in Mitski’s newest album. Lead single “Working for the Knife” highlights her tumultuous relationship with making music, especially as fans continue to demand more and interpret less. In “Love Me More,” she desperately sings for romance to bring her out of self-inflicted isolation. And “Should’ve Been Me” is an ‘upbeat’ hit about looking back at a relationship where you were emotionally unavailable. But my personal favorite from the album is “Heat Lightning. “And there’s nothing I can do, not much I can change / Can I give it up to you? Would that be okay?” Mitski asks her audience, searching for relief from her insomnia-inducing anxieties. 

Laurel Hell is dramatic, immersive, and reinventive for Mitski as a singer. The tracklist is beautiful in a uniquely fractured way, and personally, I found it well worth the wait.