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Mitski’s Small Town American Gothics Will Break Your Heart

One of indie rock’s most ambitious songwriters goes deeper than ever on ‘The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We’


Ebru Yildiz*

“I don’t like my mind/I don’t like being left alone in a room,” Mitski sings on her seventh album, her voice honeyed and rich despite her distress. “Please don’t take … this job from me.” We could read this as your average American workaholic, consumed by the grind. But it’s hard not to hear those words as autobiographical — after all, this is the same woman who decided to quit music, then came back, drawn to it like the tides to the moon. As she told Rolling Stone in 2021: “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.’ ”

When Mitski broke out in 2016 with her excellent Puberty 2, listeners latched onto her personal yet deeply relatable songwriting, her singularly emotive voice, and her music’s raw intensity. Her 2018 Be the Cowboy was more polished, but still managed to feel like a gut punch. The synth-heavy Laurel Hell, her 2022 return after ostensibly quitting music, grappled with her status as indie royalty.

The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We is another evolution: a mix of quotidian-yet-elliptical lyricism, classic country accompaniment, daring orchestral movements, and the musician’s unique brand of storytelling. Mitski channels images of love, nostalgia, and the aftertaste of disappointment into a collection of impressionistic vignettes steeped in rural loneliness, like an arty singer-songwriter update of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.

The record begins with quiet acoustic guitar on “Bug Like an Angel,” in which the song’s narrator eases into a whiskey haze until drinking begins to “feel like family” — the final word punctuated by a choir that sounds like a Greek chorus. “Buffalo Replaced” evokes frontiersmen shooting at animals from freight-train windows; guitars and drums churn like the wheels of a locomotive, and Mitski’s voice rises like a train whistle, before ending on an image of small-town desolation. Songs like “Heaven” and “My Love Mine All Mine,” are goth-country epics. “The Deal” is just as darkly transcendent, with the song’s narrator imagining her soul anthropomorphized as a bird as drums roll like the beating of wings.

Mitski merges her stories with American archetypes. “When Memories Snow” recalls a showdown in a spaghetti Western, but instead of gunslingers, we have a hero battling memories that smother her like snow. “The Frost” seems to be Mitski’s answer to Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” while “I’m Your Man” is a murder ballad of sorts, words of devotion morphing into menace.

It isn’t all hopeless. The album closes on a character who seems much like Mitski herself, alone in her room on the slinky track “I Love Me After You,” which is as cool as the water she drinks in the song after brushing her hair, spritzing toner, and settling back into her skin. “Let the darkness see me,” she intones. “I’m king of all the land.” Despite the album’s title, that land doesn’t seem all that inhospitable after all.

From Rolling Stone US