Becoming the Cowboy: Mitski’s Vast Exploration in 7th Album ‘The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We’

It was only last year that Mitski released Laurel Hell, an electronic folk album and “soundtrack for transformation” as it was called in the press release. This followed her critically acclaimed album Be the Cowboy by four years, dispelling any doubts about her retirement from music. 

Laurel Hell initially had a punk-leaning edge, briefly ventured into country music territory, and ultimately settled into an electrifying soundscape, featuring rock elements, pulsating pop synths, and thunderous drums, guided by her longtime collaborator Patrick Hyland. Mitski’s ability to experiment and seamlessly blend diverse musical styles was on full display. Now, with The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We, Mitski delves deeper into country influences, drawing inspiration from her Nashville home and Spaghetti Western scores. Much of the album was recorded at Bomb Shelter Studios in Nashville and Sunset Sound Studios in LA. This new project promises to be the perfect country companion to Laurel Hell.

Mitski’s latest masterpiece marks her seventh studio album, and, in true Mitski fashion, it offers a compact, poetic experience that clocks in at around 30 minutes. Her lyrics, which have always delved deep into themes of loneliness and love, continue to be a cornerstone of her artistry. Her lyrics read more like poetry and allow the listener to savor the rich storytelling within.

The album unfolds like an intimate one-act play, casting a middle-aged cowboy as its solitary protagonist, navigating the harsh terrain of isolation. She weaves tales that mention the haunting presence of mosquitoes and the ethereal beauty of fireflies. In “The Deal,” she even immerses us in the sounds of animals stampeding, transporting us directly into the heart of her narrative.

Throughout the record, the acoustic guitar reigns supreme, enveloping the listener in a warm, country lullaby embrace. Occasionally, Mitski introduces subtle accompaniments, such as the gentle harmonies of a choir or the delicate touch of a piano. The track “Heaven” culminates in a breathtaking instrumental session, orchestrated by Mitski herself. A standout moment arises with the inclusion of a pedal steel guitar in “My Love All Mine, All Mine,” which has quickly become my new favorite love song. The album undergoes a seasonal transition on “The Frost,” where Mitski poignantly reflects on isolation: “It’s just witness-less me.”

There comes a brief detour with “Star,” an electronic-infused track that gazes at the night sky and meditates on love: “You know I’d always been alone till you taught me to live for somebody.” We return to earthly grounds with “I’m Your Man,” where Mitski reintroduces the chorus while infusing the sounds of barking dogs in the background to emphasize the poignant lyric: “You’re an angel, I’m a dog.”

The album concludes on a powerful note with “I Love Me After You,” leaving listeners with an empowering message as Mitski declares, “I’m the king of all the land.” This closing piece exudes a modern feel, reminiscent of her previous two albums, suggesting that Mitski continues to evolve while maintaining her distinctive musical identity.

In The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We, Mitski ascends to new heights of storytelling prowess and musical creativity. This album is nothing short of a musical gem, a testament to Mitski’s extraordinary ability to craft deeply immersive experiences within her signature concise format. With every release, she unveils a fresh facet of her musical genius, continuously reminding us that her artistry is as multifaceted and dynamic as the rich tapestry of American musical traditions. The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We is poised to become another pivotal chapter in Mitski’s evolving musical legacy, beckoning us to join her on a country-infused adventure. 

The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We is out now.

Words by Jesse Roth for Staged Haze

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