This is my second Mitski album in full, following last year's slightly mixed "Laurel Hell", and I feel like just from those two albums alone, you can already gain a massive respect for how chameleonic Mitski truly is. This record, in classic Mitski fashion, comes in at a sparse 32-minutes (literally 8 seconds longer than the title track of Swans', "The Seer"), but given having heard the three singles beforehand, this album just felt like a quick flash into both the past and present as it's filled to the top with nostalgic and hazy production, introspective lyricism that hit deeper than I would have liked, and an overall coldness that feels familiar and oddly comforting for both Mitski and myself as well.
The lead single, "Bug Like an Angel" is honestly probably my least favorite from the record. As a lone track, it's soft, moody, and reflective in a way that almost harks back to the mundanity of life and growing up. Getting used to your surrounding to the point of numbness is a common theme on this record, but this song paints a very bleak picture of that repetition by describing the habits of being a drinker and breaking promises. The muted acoustic guitar and blisteringly loud group vocals create a very dynamic soundscape that does, in tandem, work itself into a nice overall piece. However, my biggest problem is its placement. As an opening track, it definitely sets up this simplicity in conformity and comfortability, but it doesn't exactly hold the strongest immediacy as I would have liked compared to its overall invitational sense.
That immediacy does get resolved quick, however, as the second track, "Buffalo Replaced" starts to throw us into a vacuum with a story about inhospitality and finding a balance between modernity and classic naturism. It's definitely something I grapple with as well, feeling that innate sense of belonging and connection with nature, but being brought back to city life with its temptuous emission of commerce and social diversity. There's a strong sense of alt-country throughout this track that almost feels customary to overseeing the plains being slowly overhauled with railroads and streets. A deep, guttural acoustic progression with steadily pounding bass and drums make this song all the more immediate as this sense of losing touch with another time or part of yourself becomes apparent rapidly.
Of course, the next track, "Heaven", is one that I will have no hesitation to praise beyond belief. One of the most sonically lush and elegant songs on the whole record, we find ourselves in a handy fusion of swooning slide guitars, misty folk sensibilities, romantic and heart-tugging string inclusion, and a slew of emotionally leaking lines about being close with one another in all aspects and finding the comfort laden in the present that will soon be torn up by an inevitable future filled with strife and pain. That "heaven" she resides in is found in the indirect kisses from coffee, the warmth and security found in intimacy with another, and the push to remain happy while she can in the company of her loved one. As the track closes and perhaps this "darkness" she mentions sets in, the entire track blurs and fades away, leaving a orchestral remnant that sings out the remainder of the track like a final light seen in the distance.
As I mentioned earlier about this album containing a hefty amount of content towards the mundanity of life and the ability to maneuver through it by combating your current self and holding off your past self, there is also a sense of escapism concisely tracked throughout the record, namely in the next couple tracks like "I Don't Like My Mind" and "When Memories Snow". The former deals with a fear of being alone, not physically, but mentally and psychologically as such gives way to being caught in a loop of overthinking, anxiety, and flooding your mind with senseless problem that exist purely due to your inability to solve them given their untouchable nature. Connecting this sense of isolation only gets driven farther with the mentioning of work and holidays creating such an environment for detachment and self-grown hostility. The latter speaks as an allegorical presentation for pushing back memories and things that have passed like the always falling snow on a driveway. With imagery of faceless audiences, this sense of impending dread and self-destruction almost bubbles up into something uncontrollable and volatile.
Between these songs lays "The Deal", another allegorical track that finds us in yet another dreamy, cloudy state of indie-folk as this lush palette of overblown percussion and constant strumming of guitars sets this nighttime stage for a lesson in wanting to be nothing. Poised as a way to display the dangers of oppression and silencing yourself, the song fluxes through segments of buried strings, rhythmic lulls of folk, and a concussive ending that almost sums up the consequences of allowing yourself to become too overwhelmed with bottled up emotions. The bird in the song that is given her soul tells of how she is merely a cage, stating how without it, she is just that: a cage. Holding and keeping nothing in, she is merely a husk, meant only to exist rather than to feel. Sure, her soul might be gone and her sense of feeling is abandoned in a way to avoid pain, but as is her ability to appreciate the good and bad in life through joy and gratitude and an innate desire to express yourself. It's something that many struggle with, especially myself, but you only realize how packaged happiness and sorrow truly are once they are both taken away from you.
The following track, "My Love Mine All Mine" is a drearier cut that shows this expression once lost in its most extraordinary, praying for her love to be expressed and received even after she's gone. Using the moon as a model to manifest this seemingly endless love, this timeless object that has come before her and remain after will stay as a symbol of her love and that ability to cross through the films of life and death for something as powerful as this. Slightly detuned and understated, this sluggish love song just further expresses that stability of emotions potent enough to surpass the test of time or even reality. On the other hand, the following track, "The Frost" shows off the danger of that expression being thrown into the wind with no one to catch it. Like the stiff progression, the "frost" that is spoken of is icy to the touch and rigid. With that, the rigidity lasts into the isolated state she finds herself in, losing all the people around her as her walls have grown around her. With references to occupying a world alone and being "witless-ness", that sense of self that is found through the validation, and more immediately effective, observation from others is completely gone, leaving anyone in a situation like this unsure of who they even really are.
Back into a more cosmic stance like "My Love Mine All Mine", we are introduced to the most ethereal and transcendental track on the record, the synth/string imbued, "Star". With a effervescent slow burn, the song describes two lovers who are not together anymore, but keep that respect and deeply rooted care for each other throughout the rest of their life, held from outside of a place of close contact or familiarity. Like a star, it burns for what seems like an eternity, remaining strong until it succumbs to its dimness. The otherworldly ambience created in the song with crescendos and illustrious instrumental layering creates this feeling of overwhelming beauty that genuinely feels resonant in such a way that I can't even properly describe.
The final two tracks on the record work in tandem to paint a picture of an underappreciated self and a soul damaged and deconstructed by insecurity and an inability to love. "I'm Your Man" details these destructive tendencies that lead her into being placed in positions of unbacked dominance, creating a seemingly imperfect dynamic between someone she was unable to fully love and herself, filtering this love that she received as violent or unrequited. Even though she knows this relationship will end, she can't help but express her despair in a visceral fashion, wondering if her self-loathing is enough to rework the damage done to her partner as a way to get back at herself for allowing her to handle things this way. It may be targeted wrong or done in an odd fashion, but it feels genuine. "I Love Me After You" further accentuates this odd relationship she has with herself, being placed in a seemingly one-sided relationship with someone she believes to be perfect and worthy of endless affection. However, her self-critical attitude shifts when the relationship ends, leaving her to put this aimless love to use in a way to finally start appreciating and truly loving herself. Unabashedly becoming confident in yourself and being able to accept that you're worthy of love is a treacherous path to take, but it's a necessary one, one that we find Mitski taking here in strides. As tracks blossoms into a overdriven wall of sound, this love is finally returned to no one else but herself. This "king of all the land" that she once loved is now herself, and even though the land that she may rule may seem inhospitable to her, it's a step in the right direction for finding the self-care that she and everyone else rightfully deserves.
This album is ridiculously potent with lyrics about loving yourself, placing your love in the right and wrong things, and figuring out how to navigate a world while still being able to keep your feelings and emotions intact in the least explosive way possible. Mitski definitely has a knack for being able to present this struggle as something beautiful, both sonically and narratively. I'm more than ready to play this album in the middle of the night with the upcoming autumn soon to be in full force, hopefully destroying me in the process in the most graceful way it can.
Favorite Tracks: Buffalo Replaced, Heaven, I Don't Like My Mind, The Deal, Star, I'm Your Man, I Love Me After You
Least Favorite: Bug Like an Angel
|1||Bug Like an Angel / 85|
|2||Buffalo Replaced / 90|
|3||Heaven / 100|
|4||I Don't Like My Mind / 95|
|5||The Deal / 90|
|6||When Memories Snow / 90|
|7||My Love Mine All Mine / 85|
|8||The Frost / 90|
|9||Star / 100|
|10||I'm Your Man / 100|
|11||I Love Me After You / 95|