'The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We' - Lily Stern

After 2022’s chart-topping "Laurel Hell," it wasn’t just a question of when Mitski would release new music, but if another album would come at all. Just a year and a half later, however, the singer-songwriter has released 11 new songs under the title "The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We." It may just be one of her most powerful records.

This album is a return to earthier, warmer roots, but possesses enough innovative soundscapes to keep listeners engaged throughout all 32 minutes. Mitski’s acclaimed lyrics are given space to breathe on every track — they float on top of soft arrangements and melodic vocalizations, making for an even more emotional and complex album.

I had not heard the album’s pre-release singles or read any reviews prior to listening (aside from Twitter praise). If you have yet to listen yourself, turn your speakers up, press play, and have the words pulled up next to you for the full effect.

An alternate way to experience this record is to follow in my roommate’s footsteps and get temporarily lost in the woods to Mitski’s voice. Highly recommended.

Lead single “Bug Like an Angel” is a quiet opener but it certainly doesn’t stay that way. The song begins soft and sweet, but as Mitski describes a drink feeling like ‘family,’ there’s a gorgeous explosion of choral voices. Otherwise, the track has very minimalist production, so her vocals and the accompanying choir’s harmonies carry you through the rest of the melody.

We move straight into another ambient, country-adjacent track, “Buffalo Replaced,” where her voice swims just below the heavy instrumentals. My favorite part of the song is the lush post-chorus musical break. Next is another single entitled “Heaven,” and in my opinion, this song warrants a performance in a concert hall with a full orchestra. The lyrics are as poetic and intimate as you would expect from a sonnet, and the orchestral climax at the end of the track is a thing of beauty.

We take a turn down a darker path with “I Don’t Like My Mind,” the album’s loudest so far in both volume and intensity. The lyrics, filled with routine suffering, speak of self-loathing behavior; her vocals are at their most powerful. Themes of regret continue in “The Deal,” a surreal tale of bargaining her soul away only to realize she was the one holding it captive. This effect is simultaneously haunting and aggressive, emphasized by the percussion crescendoing at the track’s end.

“When Memories Snow” serves as the midway point of the album, and it’s somewhat of a sonic fusion playground. As I sit here, I feel like I’m listening to some folk-rock horror-soundtrack-choir hybrid, but it’s very enjoyable. The instrumentals are lavish and the longing lyrics are just so Mitski. I don’t have much else to say beyond that. It also precedes an album standout, the stunning “My Love Mine All Mine” – a gorgeous slow dance portraying Mitski’s love as her best quality, guaranteed to outlive her. It’s a warm hug I wish lasted longer than two minutes.

As much as Mitski emphasizes love on the record, loneliness is given equal weight, and that’s all too evident in “The Frost.” In this song, she is alone in her grief after losing a confidant and she awaits decay in the apocalyptic landscape left behind. The follow-up, “Star,” the last of the three pre-release singles, is initially lonely in its austere production, but the lyrics instead sing of companionship and found love.

One thing about me: I love synths, I love a cinematic instrumental, and I love romantic lyrics. My initial word to describe this song was “delicious,” and as the track continues to swell until its final moments, I have to reiterate that description. It has stayed my favorite song.

The last two tracks feel like a coda after the curtain call of “Star,” but hold up in quality. In “I’m Your Man,” Mitski returns to self-deprecating punishment, as well as criticism of the patriarchy. The song simultaneously reads as a love letter and an apology, and the layering of animal and choral vocalizations at its end falls close to Biblical. Conclusion “I Love Me After You” is quiet and reflective until an explosion of drums and bass and ever-present oohs. The satisfying finish of static and ambient studio noise (Mitski leaving us once again) celebrates her freedom.

While the heartrending lyrics and lush instrumentals are as bold as ever, Mitski’s newest work is her most contemplative, crestfallen, and cohesive. Every song builds off of the one before and feeds into the one after, transporting you to the titular wilderness landscape. But while the land around her may be barren in the face of loss, her musical identity stands firmly planted, as does her strongest legacy – her love.

First-listen favorites: “Star,” “Bug Like an Angel,” “My Love Mine All Mine,” and “I Love Me After You”

Favorites upon re-listening: “Star,” “Buffalo Replaced,” “I Love Me After You,” and “The Frost”