You know what is better than one person ranting about singer-songwriter Mitski’s 6th album, Laurel Hell? A whole bunch of people giving the freshest and hottest takes completed with memes and jokes to recharge and last you for this entire dire, cold, disgusting, gray winter quarter week. The mountain laurel is a symbol of perseverance, and the album is a perfect mash-up that details love, capitalism and adultery and how one strives to make the best of the messiness that is life. For this round table, our entertainment section writers deliver their thoughts on the 11 tracks of the album through a conversational format.
1. Valentine, Texas
Jayna: My favorite on the album, this song is a great encapsulation of the themes of self-reflection and making peace with the past. Mitski’s voice is liquid smooth here (pardon the pun), her deep tones matching the low synth backing track. Her enunciation on words like “wet teeth” with the slight echo effect add an almost ethereal quality to the track. When I first heard the full arrangement come in at 1:06, I really felt like the Spongebob ascending meme.
George: I completely agree, this is the best track on the album in my opinion. The beat drop at 1:06 is just such a great moment. I love that the song sort of starts off sounding like older Mitski (like Puberty 2 and Bury me at Makeout Creek) and then after the drop, Mitski transitions into this new style and sound. It kind of signifies everything that Mitski is trying to accomplish in this album and is not only an amazing opening, but also possibly one of Mitski’s best tracks ever.
Hope: I want to skip all of my classes for the next week so I can lay on my bed and listen to this song over and over. Hard agree on the Spongebob ascending meme feeling.
2. Working for the Knife
Hope: There’s probably other versions of this out there, but I made this to express my feelings about the song. This is going into the capitalist critique hall of fame along with Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.”
3. Stay Soft
George: This track is nice but not quite as memorable as a lot of the others on this album. That’s about all I got.
Hope: I really like the verses in this track more than I like the chorus, mostly because of the way Mitski sings “I tuck my hand under my weight,” but also partly because the chorus lyrics “You stay soft, get beaten / Only natural to harden up” remind me of something Co-Star would put in a perplexing horoscope.
Jayna: I can already picture the Succession edits to this song. I will be streaming! (Send any and all Kendall Roy x Mitski fancams to @kurljayna on Twitter)
Linda: It’s okay Kendall, Mitski gets it.
5. Heat Lightning
Jayna: Of the five singles released for the album (“The Only Heartbreaker”; “Working for the Knife”; “Heat Lightning”; “Love Me More”; “Stay Soft”) this one is my favorite. Its contemplative, slow-paced melody allows for the poeticism of Mitski’s language to sink in and hit another level. Her vulnerability in the chorus with lines like “And there's nothing I can do, not much I can change / Can I give it up to you? Would that be okay?” breaks my heart each time I listen, which is near-constantly since the single dropped. The gorgeous visuals of the lyric video – pinks and purples, abstract shapes and living rooms – transport you to the time in Mitski’s life she’s writing about.
George: “Heat Lightning” sounds like moody, ’60s lounge music in the best way possible. It builds up this mood through a constant beat that does not give up throughout the entire runtime. It begins foreboding and over time the ominous feeling transforms into a deep kind of sadness about lack of agency. I love this track, but I would say that “The Only Heartbreaker” is my favorite of the single releases.
Hope: Obviously, this song is perfect. Jayna is so right about the “And there’s nothing I can do…” line, especially towards the end of the song at 2:20 when her voice cracks a little.
6. The Only Heartbreaker
Hope: I don’t want to get too philosophical, but this song reminds me of how fans always say (or tweet) that Mitski is the quintessential #sadgirl or that her music always makes them cry. So, she’s been designated as a “heartbreaker” not only by people in her personal life, but also by her fans, which ironically is in itself heartbreaking. She said in a recent interview that she finds the sad girl trope “reductive and tired,” which made me reexamine everything I’ve ever said about Mitski. Also, feel free to disagree with me, but if Glee was still airing and covered any song from the album, I feel like it would be this one – there’s something very theatrical and Broadway-esque about it.
Jayna: A perfect song. No notes.
George: This^ (retweet)
7. Love Me More
George: It feels a bit like Mitski gets drowned out by the instrumentals in this song. Her vocals and lyrics sound a bit like normal Mitski fare, while the instrumentals sound almost like one of Bonnie Tyler’s upbeat songs – I was reminded a lot of “Holding Out for a Hero.” And in Bonnie Tyler’s upbeat songs, because of the intensity of the backtracks, she is practically screaming to be heard and convey the intensity required. But, Mitski is not screaming, causing a bit of a dissonance between the vocals and the back track.
Hope: The Mitski-ification of “Greedy” by Ariana Grande but, like, not in a bad way. I love the dancey vibes and I could listen to this song for four hours straight and still love it. To George’s point, Mitski does say in the song she wants love to drown her out. So it could be part of her musical genius that the instrumentals do that for her.
8. There’s Nothing Left For You
Hope: Recently, I’ve been listening to a lot of Mitski’s more upbeat songs (I’m trying to stay happy in the gray Chicago winter), but I’m in love with the slow, heartbeat-sounding background music of this song. The abrupt mid-song shift from the long, loud, drawn out line “It was your right / It was your life” to the quiet “And then it passed” is just as poetic as the lyrics themselves.
Jayna: I totally agree about the backing track sounding like a heartbeat. It’s almost meditative, in a way. This is the song whose production I feel reflects the lyrics in the best off the album – the building tension, the cathartic anger and the resigned acceptance of reality meet the swells in music beat for beat.
9. Should’ve Been Me
Hope: My favorite of the non-single songs. Am I the only one getting ABBA vibes? In classic Mitski style, the instrumentals are so engaging and fun while the lyrics are earnest and somewhat dark. She says she didn’t give her lover what they need, but the line “Must be lonely loving someone / Trying to find their way out of a maze” gave me what I need. Thank you, Mitski.
George: The backtrack almost sounds like video game, arcade music. It has this nice artificial chiptune-like quality that I love. Her lyrics and upbeat tone work perfectly with these 80’s inspired elements, making this track, like, a full moment.
10. I Guess
Jayna: Sonically, “I Guess” reminds me a lot of one of my favorite Mitski songs of all time, “Two Slow Dancers,” off her fifth album Be The Cowboy. The languid reverb of a few layered notes with Mitski’s soft voice breaking through are shared characteristics of the songs. Both address a sort of intimate, everlasting longing. While I like “I Guess,” it feels to me like a less-effective rehash of “Two Slow Dancers.”
Hope: It is definitely reminiscent of “Two Slow Dancers.” I like its place in the story of this album, though. Having it as the penultimate track was a good decision in my opinion.
Linda: I am listening to the songs around the album at random, and when this came on I had a vivid image of me sitting next to a frozen lake. It sounds like she’s just talking to nature? I love the repeating rhythm as it is very calming.
11. That’s Our Lamp
Hope: So true. That is our lamp. I like to imagine that the lamp in question is a lava lamp because listening to the vocals has that same dreamy, flowy, funky feeling as watching a lava lamp swirl. Also, a great closer to the album – all the miscellaneous noises and loud instrumentals at the end of the song as Mitski sings “That’s where you loved me” definitely feels like the end of something important. It really captures the feeling of watching strangers making new memories in a place where you have so many old memories of being happy and loved.
Linda: Love the use of cacophony soundbites at the end. It sounds like a song that will be played in the credits of a coming-of-age movie where the protagonist doesn’t get with the love interest. As Hope said, Mitski’s use of repetition really allows the listeners insights into the mixture of emotions since there’s no lyrics to latch onto. I think this might be my favorite Mitski track to date!