“The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We” is almost entirely acoustic yet full of life.
Mitski Holds Onto Hope In “The Land Is Inhospitable, and So Are We”
The lights fade and the reel starts. “Bug Like An Angel” conveys a scene of a dimly lit, near-empty dive. The song sparks the imagery of a protagonist sitting in the middle of a bar, shot in hand, looking worse for wear.
“As I got older, I learned I’m a drinker / Sometimes a drink feels like family,” Mitski confesses.
A choir bursts in like a memory behind her.
“Family,” they bellow.
“The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We,” Mitski’s seventh studio album, begins.
Mitski’s previous album “Laurel Hell” was supposed to be her last, only created to fulfill a contractual obligation, according to an interview with Rolling Stone. The record’s unfinished quality teetered between gaudy synths and metallic clangor, neither of which played out satisfactorily.
In stark contrast, “The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We” is almost entirely acoustic yet full of life. The record is cohesive — an aspect often neglected in her prior work — keeping a forlorn country sound throughout.
The opener and lead single “Bug Like an Angel” sets a somber tone for the album. Its contemplations on family and God strike a soulful chord, as does the majestic choir, but the song has little to offer otherwise.
The following song “Buffalo Replaced” wastes no time. Stomping percussion and unrelenting guitar strums immediately overpower Mitski, who whispers of mosquitoes, full moons and freight trains under the instruments as if in hiding.
Along with the evocation of an eerie, country atmosphere, Mitski’s intricate lyricism in “Buffalo Replaced” introduces a key theme rarely explored in her discography — hope.
“I have a hope and though she’s blind with no name / She shits where she’s supposed to, feeds herself when I’m away / Sometimes I think it would be easier without her / But I know nothing can hurt me when I see her sleeping face,” Mitski announces.
“Heaven” is an elegant love song full of folk-like strings and bass, and Mitski sweetly describing herself as a willow or brook growing around her lover.
The song still isn’t necessarily happy, per se. A storm dances outside, and she worries about the dark just around the corner, building into the uneasiness that lies under the album, even on the brightest song.
“I Don’t Like My Mind” is reminiscent of “Working For The Knife,” the lead single off “Laurel Hell,” in their themes of facing burnout and its repercussions. The song has a “wall of sound”-esque production, with slow percussion and wailing slide guitars dancing around Mitski’s rueful voice.
“The Deal” plays into the country atmosphere by detailing a stereotypical deal with the devil.
“I want someone to take this soul / I can’t bear to keep it,” she pleads as the instrumental crashes like a wave.
Now, the night has her, and she’ll never be free. The already tedious instrumental descends into a tornado of pure chaos, drowning out Mitski’s desperate mourning.
“When Memories Snow” sounds like Mitski yelling to an empty room, with a choir echoing off the walls. The second half of the song is complete chaos, with brass and strings screaming in opposing keys. Although the song is interesting with this atmosphere, it is forgettable in the album as a whole.
“My Love Mine All Mine,” a lonesome waltz with the moon, also stands out as a high point on the record.
“Moon, a hole of light through the big top tent up high / Here before and after me / Shining down on me,” she sings pleadingly, asking the moon to keep her love long after she’s gone with a sentimental slide guitar and gentle choir setting the backdrop.
The song is corrupted with a layer of melancholy as Mitksi grapples with her inevitable death and the fact that “nothing in the world belongs to me but my love,” leaving a bittersweet taste.
“The Frost” is the most sonically country on the album, which is pulled off masterfully. It starts with a drum kicking in sweet slide guitars and matching strings. Mitski sings peacefully of an abandoned world, but not in a way we haven’t heard from her before.
Third single “Star” shares the bittersweetness of “My Love Mine All Mine.” The ballad initially appears as a love song, but Mitski defies this expectation in the chorus.
“We were so glad, so glad to have found it / That love’s like a star / It’s gone,” she recalls mournfully.
“I’m Your Man” might be the darkest the album gets. Mitski likens her relationship with a lover to a dog and its owner. The song is one of her most lyrically compelling as violent instrumentals nails the horror home.
“You believe me like a God / I destroy you like I am,” she threatens.
Nevertheless, in her final act, “I Love Me After You,” Mitski reverses the deal.
“The night is mine / I’m king of all the land,” she declares.
With her humming — not dissimilar to that of “Bug Like an Angel” — over loud, grainy synths and beating percussion, she finally has risen above the noise. The album ends with Mitski reborn, a character far from the gloomy, beat down protagonist she was first introduced as.
She shows there is hope, like the moon in the night or a dead star’s light still shining — and that’s worth holding on.
“The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We” is available to stream on all major platforms.
Featured image courtesy of Ebru Yildiz / Dead Oceans