The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We – Mitski’s Album Review [FROM THE VAULT]

Somewhere dry, where the night sky is filled with stars and all you can hear is the hum of bugs and perhaps a steam train in the distance – that is where Mitski’s new Album ‘The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We’ is built. 

I went to the listening party at the Lido Cinema in Hawthorne, Melbourne. This was very new for me, and completely different to the way I would normally listen to music. Listening to the album in full, in complete darkness surrounded by other Mitski fans doing the same thing, was a beautiful experience. 

It is an album of self-dissection, the trials of being an artist in an all-consuming industry, and the fated perils of love and loving and being loved. Mitski tells a mystical tragedy of what it is to have a soul and to love; the pain they will forever bring, and how she would happily give both up. Yet she also has discovered that when she thinks about everything she’s had and lost, the one thing she can trust she’ll always have is Love. 

Mitski ventures somewhere she hadn’t fully explored in her music: Country. She melds her powerful, rolling vocals and grandiose, cinematic sound with traditional American-sounding instruments like acoustic guitar, steel pedal and a choir, creating layers of enigmatic sounds. Doubled with perplexing, earnest lyrics that tell stories of Mitski’s taunting inner monologue and we are gifted with a very telling piece of work. 

The name of the album paints a very clear assumption for potential themes, ones of climate change, of humanity’s impact on the land. Those themes are subtle, but rather than being the main topic, they are vividly built set. A place for a story of facing burdensome inner turmoils, recognising the turbulent ways of love and finding meaning in our forever changing world.  

The Album opens with ‘Bug Like an Angel’, in which a soft yet certain acoustic guitar is strumming, with a lethargic, melancholic voice from Mitski. This lead single is a powerful prelude to her album, foreshadowing the mix of traditional and contemporary sounds that she explores, and the themes of self-destruction brought on by family conflicts that are later further uncovered.   

This song I remember very clearly as I sat there in the dark of the cinema, captivated by Mitski’s voice, and then completely overwhelmed by the chilling voices of the chorus as they came in on the word “Family”. Family – the greatest conundrum. 

This powerful, cinematic sound is heard later in the album in songs like ‘The Deal’ which displays Mitskis’ dynamic voice over violent stampeding percussions, a cacophony of instruments and astonishing bursts in volume. ‘Star’ too shows this mystical sound with its orchestral strings and resonating organ, accrediting film scores like that of Stanley Kubrick, and making a celestial, divine sound to accompany her beautiful lyrics honoring the complexity of love. 

Perhaps my favorite song of the album – ‘Buffalo Replaced’ comes second with the pounding of an ensemble of guitars. Mitski paints a picture of an isolated place, with bugs buzzing, and fire crackling. She alikes natural things like mosquitos to the hum of highway cars, signifying civilisation displacement of the natural world; the Buffalo replaced by the Freight train. She tells a story of her rejection of modern society and her newfound sentiment for the country. 

Other songs are more classic and acoustic sounding, like the third of the album: ‘Heaven’. ‘Heaven’ seems simply to be a melancholic love song, a classic waltz with a sweetly singing steel pedal and Mitski’s angelic voice. Yet it still turns back to that contemporary ambition with music, as towards the end her voice rolls over an orchestra of strings like thunder over pouring rain, creating sounds beyond that humble country sound.  

The story continues with ‘My Love Mine All Mine’, another melancholic love song, a serenade to the moon. This is the crux of her narrative, she learns the power her love gives her, that the one thing she truly owns is her love. The song emanates a purity with the choir in the background bringing a soulful, devotional feel to her song. It felt especially theatrical, as though Mitski were two-stepping across the stage, hand on heart, singing across to a room full of people. 

‘I Don’t Like My Mind’ – the main song in this album that speaks of Mitski’s inescapable self-dissection, alongside ‘When Memories Snow’ and ‘The Frost’.  She sings about her inner conflict, her escapist coping mechanisms and overindulgences. And how her work as an artist is one of the few things that allows her to truly escape from those regretful, painful memories, but beyond that and all the chaotic distractions she creates, those memories will always be there, waiting for her. This song is a powered song filled with ache, and all of Mitski’s feelings of anguish ring out through her voice. 

Mitski creates an all surrounding album. Perhaps it was because I was in the cinema but it felt like a movie was playing in front of me. It allowed my imagination to expand and to visualize her in all these places she described, and to understand all the wondrous emotions and feelings she sang of.

It was a special, fascinating experience and forced me to take a deep dive into her music, attempting to understand Mitski and her whirlwind of an album. 

By Mina Wakefield

Header image via Billboard

FROM THE VAULT is an initiative from this year’s Catalyst editors to get some of the older posts that didn’t get published, on the site! You might have seen a couple of other posts earlier this year — there are so many incredible works that get submitted that we just don’t always get to them in time. Enjoy!

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