Indie rock artist Mitski released her sixth studio album Laurel Hell to fans on Friday, after taking an indefinite break from music in 2019. Her last show was in Central Park on Sept. 7 of that year, after announcing to fans it would be her “last show indefinitely.”
Now, more than two years later, Mitski has returned with a new album that dives right back into the darkness, exploring the pressure of fame, mental health and uncertainty with herself and the world.
The album kicks off with the slow-moving synth in “Valentine, Texas” that crescendos to a verse where she describes a mountain landscape, in reference to the album title. The term “Laurel Hell” is in reference to the U.S. Southern Appalachians, where laurel bushes grow in thick groups — and once you’re stuck, you can’t get out.
Her album continues with “Working for the Knife,” originally a single released in fall 2021 to a surprised fanbase. The artist had deactivated her social media accounts during her hiatus but reactivated them to promote the new single.
The song’s lyrics, “I start the day high and it ends so low / ‘Cause I’m working for the knife,” act as a metaphor for an oppressive force Mitski explores throughout the album. She builds the verses with altered lyrics but a similar melody that soothes the audience as they listen to her tell a story.
In “Stay Soft,” Mitski blends dark, almost eerie tones into a bouncy, fun song that is reminiscent of her hit single “Nobody” off her 2018 album Be the Cowboy — the song is light and soft, but with heavy undertones.
In “Everyone,” Mitski describes her feelings about the music industry and her commitment to having a place there.
With percussion in the background that sounds almost like a ticking clock, her lyrics, “Everyone said, ‘Don’t go that way’ / So of course to that, I said / ‘I think I’ll go that way,’” set the mood for the song.
Although Mitski was immersed in music as a kid, she majored in film in college. She eventually transferred her sophomore year and entered a music program, where she met her current producer, Patrick Hyland. Her lyrics explore how she felt like an outsider in the music industry.
Her album continues to explore different messages, all while leaving her audience filled with the emotion she pours into her music. In indie rock, it is rare to find an artist who treats their instrumental sections as important as their vocals — and Mitski is one of them. Each song glides from piano glissandos and electric guitar solos right into her soothing vocals, backed by crystal clear synths.
Mitski rose to fame in 2014 with her third album, Bury Me at Makeout Creek. However, it wasn’t until 2021 during her hiatus when Mitski became TikTok famous for her song “Nobody.” People would commonly use it in the backgrounds of memes showing them running away from something they didn’t want to do.
Mitski ends her album with “That’s Our Lamp,” a song about a relationship that ends with the repeated line, “That’s where you loved me,” with an audience singing along in the background, a possible nod to performing live again. The artist does have tour dates booked — and sold out — from February through September.