Mitski’s ‘Laurel Hell’ is somewhat empty

Singer-songwriter Mitski, known for sad, alternative pop songs, steps away from her typical indie vibes in her latest album, ‘Laurel Hell.’ // Photo courtesy of Dead Oceans

Our Take: 4/5 Stars

With Mitski’s third studio album, “Laurel Hell,” she has come back from a hiatus to drop a highly anticipated, but slightly disappointing album.

The “Best Young Songwriter,” dubbed by The Guardian, has shown a lack of depth and candidness seen in past albums.

While  she was studying at Purchase College’s Conservatory of Music, Mitski had self-produced and released two full albums. After signing with Dead Oceans, she had released two more studio-backed albums — “Laurel Hell” being her third.

However, “Laurel Hell” may have never been released. During the final performance of her Be the Cowboy Tour in September 2019, Mitski had offered up her retirement.

She hoped to “find another life” by quitting. She had felt the pressure of the parasocial relationships seen by her fans, they had felt entitlement to her personal life.

At the beginning of 2020, Mitski came back to music. It may have been a product of lockdowns or that she owed Dead Oceans another album.

“I have to do this even though it hurts me, because I love it,” she told Rolling Stone . “This is who I am. … I’m going to keep getting hurt, and I’m still going to do it, because this is the only thing I can do.”

Coming up, focusing on the music she loved, she would put her all into performing.

This would leave her open to getting hurt, and as such, she told The Guardian that she decided “that even if more harm may come to me, I would be serving my purpose better if I actually wrote something that felt closer to my heart.”

This was the birth of Laurel Hell, Mitski’s alter-ego, a less filtered, more rough and poppy self.

Ironically, her album titled “Laurel Hell” was anything but that, it felt empty and soulless, but it was poppy.

The album was so general in its wallowing themes and couldn’t pinpoint the crux of sadness seen by most basic songs or, at a higher level, when oversharing seen on older albums.

It feels tossed off and cold in parts — it’s an odd development for an artist whose work has historically been so raw and personal.

Even though she has emphasized her distaste for the mainstream this album feels designed to further push her into the mainstream — against her wishes.

“Love Me More,” is a wonderful example of this plea to the mainstream. Yes, it could be a meta album, but it may be an overanalysis of the album to defend an artist’s past views.

Looking at the music itself, there is little criticism to be had. She sets up an amazing dark gloomy atmosphere that sucks the listener in, straight from the first song on the album “Valentine, Texas.”

The song formats and sonic introductions were engaging and kept the audience involved. It shows that Mitski studied studio composition.

If one expects indie Mitski, they will be disappointed. Her indie audience may have expected more based on her preceding work, but her sonic shift to a more pop-focused album was welcome for new Mitski fans.

She is at a crossroads, continuing to experiment her pop sound for a new more diverse audience or dive back into her past if she wants to keep her audience. She had renewed her contract, so she has plenty of time to experiment with her sound and find what she likes.

For Tech students, Mitski is a cultural icon representing the inner turmoil of a college student. While “Laurel Hell” wasn’t perfect, fans are looking ahead to what is next.