When Mitski released her 2022 album Laurel Hell, I fully expected it to be her last. The singer-songwriter had gone on a hiatus for the last four years with little sign of returning aside from the rare collaboration.

The album’s general tone reinforces this belief because it centers on Mitski’s frustration with the music industry. It sounded like a goodbye.

But imagine my surprise and excitement when she announced her seventh album, The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We, released on Sept. 15. The record is short, typical of a Mitski album, at just over 32 minutes long.

The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We is Mitski’s self-described “most American album.” It toes the line between folk and country with an orchestral flair. For her lead single and album opener, “Bug Like an Angel,” Mitski hand-picked a 17-person choir, while collaborator Drew Erickson conducted an orchestra for many of the tracks. Long-time collaborator Patrick Hyland also returned to produce the album.

This album may be my absolute favorite of Mitski’s. The story follows the narrator’s relationship with her lover, as well as her relationship with herself. Sometimes self-destructive, other times lonely, The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We’s 11 tracks are transformative and somehow still hopeful.

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“Buffalo Replaced” places the listener on the Great Plains, experiencing the extinction of the American buffalo at the hands of industrialization. Mitski likens her hope to one such buffalo and finds strength in her: “Sometimes I think it would be easier without her / But I know nothing can hurt me when I see her sleepin’ face,” she sings.

This ray of hope follows the singer through the album’s narrative, at moments faltering because of doubt and regret, such as in “When Memories Snow,” a Western-style song calling for escape from the narrator’s most painful memories.

Similarly, in “I Don’t Like My Mind,” Mitski distracts herself from her self-destructive thoughts by engaging in equally destructive behavior, only to realize she’s perpetuating a cycle: “There’s another memory that gets stuck / Inside the walls of my skull waiting for its turn/ to talk.”

Sometimes, though, Mitski finds herself pushing back against regret. In the orchestral ballad “Heaven,” Mitski asks her lover to keep the darkness at bay for the day: “Can we stay a while and listen for / Heaven.”

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The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We repeatedly asks the listener the worth of strong love and regret. In “The Deal,” Mitski is weighed down by the conclusion that her humanity cannot be stripped from her suffering. With caged bird imagery, this song’s message is evident in the remainder of the album.

The second half of the album feels more apocalyptic than the first — like the singer’s world has crumbled away with the deterioration of her romantic relationship. In a news release for the album, Mitski said the best thing she ever did was love other people. In a twist, all the singer is left with at the album’s conclusion is herself.

My favorite track, “My Love Mine All Mine,” is a conversation between Mitski and the moon, asking for some permanence to Mitski’s love. It encapsulates the message of the album — that loving is the best thing Mitski ever did.

The choir’s haunting vocals heighten “I’m Your Man.” Simple chords back the singer’s regret over a failed relationship, as she sings, “I’m sorry I’m the one you love/ No one will ever love me like you again / So, when you leave me, I should die / I deserve it, don’t I?”

In “Star,” Mitski takes a more grateful approach. With inspiration from Scott Walker and Terry Riley, the track builds up slowly, backed by “subtle orchestration.” Comparing her love to a dying star, Mitski is still able to appreciate the remnants of a dwindling feeling. “The Frost” also echoes the end of a relationship.

In The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We’s dark yet hopeful conclusion, “I Love Me After You,” Mitski reveals that through her love for others, she has found herself. She sings, “Streets are mine, the night is mine / All my own / How I love me after you / King of all the land / I’m king of all the land.”