A Laurel Hell Review and Burnout Analysis
Let’s cover the basics first.
Mitski, full name Mitsuki Laycock, is a renowned singer and songwriter who has notably referred to herself in interviews as, “half Japanese, half American-but not fully either.” She’s quiet about her personal life, she self-released her first two albums, and she’s suffering from burnout. (But we’ll get to that later). Her aforementioned witty comment on identity highlights a common theme of her music: a sense of longing to belong. Her music is gritty, raw, and holds a harrowing look into the loneliness of sadness.
If Lana del Ray is sugar-coated cigarettes, Mitski is the raw tobacco strewn across a plate and the solitary life of the farmer who picked it.
And as of 12 a.m. eastern time, “Laurel Hell” has entered the universe for the public to listen to.
In my first listen through, I was too thrown off by the ‘80s style synth in “Working for the Knife” to process what was going on. In my second listen through, this song wrecks me. Written in 2019 when Mitski decided to quit social media and the music industry, the lyrics share a cautionary tale of reaching too high for what everyone expects of you.
“Stay Soft” in its light disco drum beat, however, is dripping in older sister toughness, with lines like “You stay soft, get eaten/ only natural to harden up.”
“The Only Heartbreaker” intro almost mirrors the sounds of the ‘80s classic “Take on Me” by A-Ha!. But unlike the endearing request for companionship in the latter, The Only Heartbreaker paints a scene of loneliness in the feeling of inadequacy compared to a partner so perfect.
“Love Me More” then asks a partner to have a love so strong, it fixes everything wrong. And the song is self-aware, because there is no way you could expect someone to do so much, but wouldn’t it be nice to be loved so deeply that you are forced to reconcile with the idea that you’re more worthy of love than you previously thought?
It brings me back to the lines of “Nobody” that hooked me into Mitski in the beginning— “And I know no one will save me / I just need someone to kiss / give me one good honest kiss / and I'll be alright.”
Yeah, I’m not dumb enough to think all my problems would go away with a shred of intimacy, but wouldn’t it be so so nice if they did? How do I know they won’t?
The rest of the album continues, and “That’s Our Lamp” seems to perfectly conclude Mitski’s relationship with music for now— two lovers, caught in a fight, with a relationship that just doesn’t feel the way it used to. The entirety of Laurel Hell feels slightly messy, with the pop-y synths feeling too commercialized for Mitski’s normal repertoire. And upon learning that this album was required of Mitski given her contract, the collection highlights the serious subject of exploitation in the music industry, and constant musician burnout where artists are continuously forced to sell integrity.
In an interview with New York Times back in 2016, Mitski stated, ““[If] I could just be a normal healthy person with a regular job, I would do that in a heartbeat. I would love to be just happy.”
Hopefully this album releases Mitski and she finds a healthier relationship with music once again. Sending her both a “thank you” and “I’m sorry” for the new music.
Lily Olsthoorn is an online writer for the super cool, super lovely Rowdy Mag. If you’re wondering what she’s up to at this exact moment, she might be rollerskating, drinking tea, thinking about jazz piano solos, or petting a cat. Or all four. See her on Insta at lily.ols :)