by Katerina Gort
photo courtesy of Dead Oceans
Named after the folk term for being trapped in the laurel thickets of the Appalachian Mountains, Mitski’s 6th studio album Laurel Hell focuses on the fluctuating relationships and emotions that drive transformation. Consisting of 11 tracks, the synth-pop/electronic rock album maps Mitski’s struggles and resilience, exploring the thickets of her mind as she comes to terms with her role in her own process of becoming.
Undeniably personal, Laurel Hell manages not to alienate the listener, as the topics of self-doubt, social pressure, regret, and love also strike a universal chord.
Finished during the Covid-19 pandemic, the 1980s-influenced album is heavily focused on human connection and the ways vulnerability can be seen not only as a part of what makes us human, but also, as a powerful tool to accept and understand others.
The focus on self-reflection gives the album a liminal feel, a moment of suspension before rebirth. Like the laurel that blossoms in spring, Laurel Hell blooms to life, allowing the listener the chance to get lost in it for a while before re-emerging on the other side. However, to my disappointment, I found this album to be lacking compared to previous work when it came to the instrumental choices — at best, they felt confusing, and at worst, they came across as poor imitations of ‘80s 'Top 10' beats, which made me wish she had chosen a more experimental route instead of conforming to an already overused sound style.
Despite this, many of the songs are lovely to listen to, and overall, the album is very much enjoyable; Mitski’s writing and singing keep the listener engaged throughout, as her voice like twisting branches weaves intricate poetry laced with unflinching vulnerability.
Personal favourites: 'Heat lightning,' 'The Only Heartbreaker,' 'Should’ve been me,' 'Working for the Knife,' 'Stay Soft,' 'Love me More and Valentine,' 'Texas.'