‘The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We’ is Mitski at her most emotionally raw. The artist’s seventh record starts with the mellow ‘Bug Like an Angel’ – it’s about seeing a bug in the bottom of a glass whilst drinking away sorrows. Stepping back from the dramatic synths that adorned previous album ‘Laurel Hell’, the song opens with an acoustic guitar and soft vocals, indicating that this album will be sticking firmly to the truth with few distractions. Mitski sings “sometimes a drink feels like family” followed by a large chorus echoing her words, enlarging the sonic landscape more than she has ever done before. A choir of 17 people – alongside strings, arranged by Mitski and Drew Erickson – was used for this record, the ensemble recorded live alongside the band in the studio. ‘Buffalo Replaced’ represents a more alt-rock sound, singing about hope, the idea that it has replaced the stampeding buffalo. This track also has a slight country twang to it, which is repeated throughout the album – notably on ‘The Frost’, ‘Star’ and ‘I Don’t Like My Mind’.
‘Heaven’ is a romantic ballad, full of strings, giving it an almost cinematic feel. Mitski has stated that this is the most ‘American’ album that she has made, a facet that feels especially prominent on ‘Heaven’ – a song that actually puts you in mind of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Young And Beautiful’. Any peace or sweetness from that is interrupted by the dark and self-deprecating song ‘I Don’t Like My Mind’; a song about feeling dangerous to yourself whilst trying to maintain your life, hold on to your job, and keep trauma at bay. It’s part of a bravura opening quartet, the first four songs focussing on the cycle of hope, disappointment, and despair.
‘The Deal’ may be one of the strongest songs on the album, the stripped-back arrangement harking back to Mitski’s earlier material. Thematically, it’s a song about someone wanting to trade their soul away as they feel so burdened by it; the minimalism of the instrumentation at the start gives space for the vulnerability of the lyrics, but this is then taken over by full, dramatic, anxiety-ridden strings at the end. Indeed, these fulsome arrangements are one of the album’s key sonic traits – the explosive strings continue throughout the short track ‘When Memories Snow’. ‘The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We’ goes through a constant battle of peace and dread, the album staunchly refusing to settle in any one place.
Finale ‘I Love Me After You’ finishes the album with the feeling of only truly being comfortable with yourself. Mitski explains: “I don’t have a self. I have a million selves, and they’re all me, and I inhabit them, and they all live inside me.” The end of the album feels like a perfect summary of all the themes that Mitski has explored: self-deprecation, love, hope, and disappointment. The final challenge? Self-love.
Words: Amelie Grice