By Mary Klein

I feel like there’s a natural inclination among music fans to say you “prefer their older stuff.” To believe that the first version of a thing was the most honest, most raw, and it will never be like this again. And once an artist gets big, their work is discredited in a way; tarnished in the sunlight. It’s a bias that correlates with our desire for comfort and familiarity and of course our egos. Keeping this in mind and not wishing to sound more pretentious than I already am, I went into Mitski’s newest (and sixth) album, Laurel Hell, with an open mind. 

But honestly, I prefer her older stuff.

I prefer the Mitski who called out so desperately for her mother on “Class of 2013,” and wanted a love that “falls as fast as a body from the balcony” on “Townie.” The Mitski who sang alongside the airy flute of “Strawberry Blonde” and the cinematic horns of “Happy,” and practically belted about wanting to be “Your Best American Girl.” The one who made crying cool, who fostered an entire online army of self-proclaimed sad girls, whose voice has reinforced overdramatized “mental breakdowns” and genuine catharses. I tried to not miss this Mitski, to embrace the latest version, but there’s just something off about her: She doesn’t embrace back.

I can hardly remember a single detail from Laurel Hell and I’ve heard it three times. If you asked me my favorite song on it, I’d have to open Spotify and remind myself of the titles. Even Mitski herself sounds bored, with her voice, while pretty, hardly changing its tone across 11 tracks. Her words are meaningful, but come off prosaic, and feel awkward against the instrumentals like the two were created with absolutely no knowledge of each other. 

There really isn’t anything about Laurel Hell that’s offensively bad (besides the beginning of “Should’ve Been Me”), it’s just dull, with nostalgic nods towards 80s-pop sounds that feel gimmicky and overdone. But it actually has its fair share of moments, even beautiful ones, such as the lyrics of “Working for the Knife,” which echo to an overworked and alienated generation. There’s also the catchiness of “The Only Heartbreaker,” a more classic Mitski anti-love song. A good, atmospheric synth will always win me over, and “I Guess” is a dreamy penultimate that returns to the reasons Mitski garnered her emotional reputation. The final track, “That’s Our Lamp” is probably the most natural-sounding and enjoyable number, but it just serves as a sad reminder of what the previous half-hour could’ve been. 

Laurel Hell is available across most streaming platforms.

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