Mitski - Laurel Hell (Dead Oceans)

Mitski – Laurel Hell (Dead Oceans)

“Must be lonely loving someone. Trying to find their way out of a maze”. Let’s enter a labyrinth inside the psyche of 31-year-old Mitski Miyawaki. Is there a way out? It’s frustratingly full of life’s dead ends: a routine job in adulthood, feelings of emptiness and loneliness, crippling insomnia, playing the blame game, temptation and romantic drama.  Laurel Hell is a phrase coined by South Appalachians for when bushes and trees grow so closely-compacted and twisty that they become impenetrable. Mitski is using this as a metaphor for situations that are impossible to get out of. Nonetheless, the master lyricist is having fun exploring the beauty of her life’s entanglements, much like being trapped yet being in awe of Laurel Hell’s flowers.

“Let’s carefully step into the dark. Once we’re in, I’ll remember my way around”, the now Nashville-resident invites us into her puzzle. ‘Valentine, Texas’ (yes, it is named after the tradition) sees Mitski use the potential of her transgressive side as a catalyst to feeling spiritually free. Beginning with an affair: “I’ll show you who my sweetheart’s never met” to feeling like she’s hovering over her labyrinth and flying through the skies: “Let me watch those mountains from underneath.” A Lana Del Rey-style lanquidness is encircled by plucky keys and a daydream aura to match the singer’s surreal vision. The more disco-ready ‘Stay Soft’ also ventures into sexuality, but documents situations where two people use sex as a way to deal with their pain. Mitski isn’t passing judgement – in fact she has said in interviews she doesn’t want to be seen as a positive or negative role model – but is curiously entering the minds of these people. “It’s why I have arrived, your sex god. Here to take you where you need to go. To where the dark remembers you./ Just tell me what you want to do. Tell me what you want to burn away”.

‘Working For The Knife’ is mindboggling composition-wise, it has several layers: metallic tapping, strokes of electric guitar, fluttering piano, saxophone and sustained synths, but due to their varying pace and time signatures, the sum of their parts is disjointed and cacophonous. Possibly resembling the headache inside Mitski’s mind, as she feels exhausted by the expectations placed upon her music career. A similar lament is heard on ‘There’s Nothing Left For You’. It’s a track that’s reminiscent of Kate Bush & Peter Gabriel’s 1986 duet ‘Don’t Give Up‘ due to the slow heartbeat that pumps throughout the track and for its giving out of advice. It sounds like the kind of track heard late at night on a commercial radio station, until the bridge when Mitski delivers one of her most powerful soars: “You could touch fire. You could fly. It was your right. It was your life.”

‘Heat Lightning’ sounds even more appropriate for night time, as it’s a track that’s sympathetic towards people suffering with insomnia. Although the track is musically simplistic, it deals with the complexity of overthinking and worrying. “I’ve laid awake since one and now it’s four o’clock. And there’s nothing I can do, not much I can change”. The vague description of her problems, leaves it open and interpretive.

‘Love Me More’, ‘The Only Heartbreaker’ and ‘Should’ve Been Me’ embrace Mitski’s interest 80’s new wave. ‘Love Me More’ encapsulates greed and obsession but could be equally be about love and her career ambitions. The euphoric and breathlessly zestful music matches the lyrics about excessiveness: “But when I’m done singing this song. I will have to find something else to do to keep me here/I need you to love me more. Love enough to fill me up/Love enough to drown it out.” Written with Semisonic’s Dan Wilson (who co-wrote Adele‘s “Someone Like You”), the upbeat drum machine-laden song ‘The Only Heartbreaker’ details the blame game dynamic in relationships, but shows empathy by suggesting that the one who is being blamed is often the partner who is making the most effort.

The most fun track on Laurel Hell is arguably ‘Should’ve Been Me’. Containing a similar beat of Hall & OatesManeater, as well as piano from George Michael’sA Different Corner, the sparkling new wave track evokes jolliness, but the track contains lyrics relating to Mitski being stuck in her Laurel Hell predicament and calling for help. “Would come and lift me out and drop me in the middle of a labyrinth, where I’d be stuck a while/When I saw the girl looked just like me, I thought ‘Must be lonely loving someone trying to find their way out of a maze.'” Mitski has gained a loyal fanbase over the course of her six albums due to her lyrical relatability, so describing life as a hard-to-navigate puzzle strengthens her musical knack.


God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.