Hunger, loneliness, and rage are inescapable landmarks of the geography of Mitski’s discography. They’re in her debut record Lush where she expresses an inability to find relief; they’re in how she screams into distorted guitars in Bury Me at Makeout Creek; it’s an untamable, collective fire with flames that leave you cold and lonely until you open yourself to its gentle warmth. Mitski’s poetic body of work is full of honesty, raw desire, and blazing twenty-something angst, all of which have come full circle in her latest release, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We.
Someone with so much passion is not without struggle in an industry that prefers people who can perfectly fit into markets. When Be the Cowboy came out in 2018, it became evident that despite commercial success, Mitski still felt unhappy and alone. Here she excavates her impulses and anxieties, brings them to the light of the fire, and gets candid about how the pursuit of her creative dreams can be as draining as much as it is fulfilling. She bears scars from previously searching for and want, want, wanting an aggressive kind of love that could crush her. She tried to feed her hunger until she was full, then she tried to embrace her hunger when it came again, but nothing was ever enough.
Last year’s Laurel Hell expounded on such feelings of unease. Mitski may be exhausted, and dragging her feet from the weight of it all, but she remains insatiable. There is a transition towards some sense of acceptance for the unpleasant which is necessary. She relays her woes as she continues to reflect on her complicated, doomed yet significant, relationship to music as a craft and as a profession. Despite all of that, the album ends with an open-ended promise that Mitski and music will stay together.
This is where the seventh, newest, 11-track record picks up from. Mitski’s artistry has always possessed a very literary nature. A problem drinker sees a bug at the bottom of a glass. A lover bends “like a willow” around their beloved. Sometimes fiction might be the best avenue to take when wanting to speak about a personal truth. She masterfully takes these complex things she experiences and learns and transforms them into clear, made-up narratives that transcend her own identities as well as the characters of her listeners.
The signature feeling of loneliness that has always been present did not disappear, it's just taken a new shade to include grief. “It’s just witness-less me,” she laments in “The Frost.” Old habits like self-loathing and overindulgence cannot be broken overnight, evident in “I Don’t Like My Mind,” where the caricature of a workaholic eats a cake, a whole cake, only for it to be thrown up. A drink paired with minimal guitar strumming is her only company in front of a chorus of voices that boom like a cruel joke at her.
Mitski has spent her entire career providing an overarching story about how beautiful and tumultuous the journey of learning to embrace the ugliest parts of oneself and the world is. There is despair and pleasure, bliss and isolation. In each of her albums she always makes the effort to return to the point that love is manifold, but this time it feels like it has become the thesis.
The steely and sharper edges that have cut and burned Mitski in the past have softened some. Accepting love that comes after turmoil tends to do that; it is a gift to experience softness once again, after so long. Gone are synth-pop sounds, in its place are grand orchestral arrangements that provide organic and wide, cohesive melodies. Her vantage point has zoomed out as well. She’s no longer focused on the demands of her vocation like a horse with blinders on. She looks beyond to observe the human condition at large, and where we stand in both the small and large galaxies that surround us. From the tiny universe of cicadas and toads, to the surreal and existential one of angels and the dealings of souls, she is reaching for connection. And she finds it in nature, likening herself to murmuring brooks and sending love to the moon, ultimately hoping all her sentiments and all her love will go up with the swirls of the orchestra and outlive her.
For the first time in a while, Mitski sounds like she has room in her lungs to take deep, full breaths. The fire is kind now, quiet and inviting. Life feels big and open in a wonderful and peaceful way. The greatest assurance her music can provide from beginning to present is that the world will not defeat you even if the land is inhospitable. Any and almost all hardships will be worth it in the end. If there’s no light around you, you can be the light for yourself. All the love you need is within you, and if you choose to hold and embrace the people and things you love about this life then your world will be full of love.