On Sept. 15, American singer-songwriter Mitski released her seventh studio album, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We. Although it has received favorable reviews from critics, including an 8.1/10 on the popular music publication Pitchfork, I found it lacking some of the intensity that Mitski is known for.
Mitski is an indie-rock superstar. While she’s never had any chart-topping hits, she has maintained a dedicated following since her first release, Lush, over a decade ago. A very private person, she shares little about her personal life in interviews and has been inactive on social media since 2019. Ironically, given her mysterious public persona, Mitski is best known for her achingly intimate lyrics. Her songs’ raw honesty and poetic lyrics are what draw most fans to her, especially those dealing with heartbreak and loneliness. In many online circles, she is treated like the patron saint for depressed young women — even Spotify features her prominently on the playlist “sad girl starter pack.”
Luckily for fans, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We lives up to those melancholic expectations. The Land is a departure from the poppy, synth-heavy sound of Mitski’s two most recent albums Laurel Hell and Be The Cowboy. Instead, The Land features acoustic instruments and simple mixing. The result is what Mitski called her “most American album.” The Western theme she was going for is most clear in the track “Buffalo Replaced,” which contains the lyrics “Freight train stampedin’ through my backyard / It’ll run across the plains like the new buffalo replaced.” The rest of the record carries the same country spirit in twanging, mournful guitar intros and references to rural motifs. The Land, taken as a whole, sounds like a musical epic sung to you across a campfire by a stranger.
The album begins with the track “Bug Like an Angel,” a metaphor-laden song about a crushed bug on the bottom of a glass of liquor. Mitski laments that as she “got older, [she] learned [she’s] a drinker” and that “sometimes a drink feels like family.” The theme of aging is a consistent thread throughout The Land, as it has always been in Mitski’s discography, like the track “Class of 2013” from her 2013 sophomore album Retired from Sad, New Career in Business. However, as a now thirty two year old, Mitski is writing from a different perspective. Instead of the frantic fear of the unknown found in her earlier records, she sings in The Land about the inability to forget and the burden of the past. In the song “I Don’t Like My Mind,” she speaks about an unwelcome “memory that gets stuck inside the walls of [her] skull waiting for its turn to talk.” She is now well into adulthood, past the naivete of her youth, and pained by time differently than before.
Despite a strong start with “Bug Like an Angel,” I found myself getting distracted in the middle of this album. The tracks “When Memories Snow” and “The Frost” in particular failed to catch my attention. Let me be clear: I am a huge Mitski fan. I’ve watched all the clips of her performing in student showcases at SUNY Purchase, and I’ve been crying to her debut album Lush since I was in middle school. I went into The Land desperately wanting to love it. Usually after listening to Mitski, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. Her music utilizes a combination of agonizingly relatable songwriting with huge, crashing instrumentals. Listening to many of her strongest songs, like “Francis Forever,” and “Nobody,” feels like being swept into an ocean of sound that surrounds you, pressing down on your body with the weight of its emotion. I didn’t get that same sensation from most of the tracks on The Land. Instead, I was left wanting more. That being said, I am currently the age Mitski was when she was writing her first releases. It makes sense that I relate more to that phase in her discography and it could very well be that I’ll come to appreciate it more down the line.
My favorite track from The Land is “I Love Me After You.” It starts with Mitski humming over a swelling, buzzing instrumental that immediately drew me in. The first verse begins with a clear image of her “laughin’ in the mirror” while she brushes her hair and ends with the refrain “How I love me after you / King of all the land.” The themes of self-love and acceptance are clear throughout the song, as verse two begins with the lyrics: “Stride through the house naked / Don’t even care that the / Curtains are open.” In only 17 lines, “I Love Me After You” manages to communicate a full story. She’s freshly out of a relationship and deciding to love herself both in spite and because of this heartbreak. Much of Mitski’s music is downright tragic, so these occasional hopeful tracks shine even brighter in comparison. It’s a slow, rhythmic ballad that closes out the album with a spectacular, if subdued, bang.
The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We is a calm but powerful record. After almost retiring for good, Mitski’s post-hiatus music has had a distinct maturity to it. You can tell just from listening to it that she’s making the art that she wants to make. Although it wasn’t always to my specific taste, there is no arguing its quality. It’s an incredible, sprawling story about a woman’s journey with love and herself. She’s been hurt, she’s loved, she’s grown and now she’s on the other side of a great big river out west somewhere, beckoning us to follow her.