The individual tracks of Mitski’s new album, released Sept. 15, are relatively simple: Many contain only two verses separated by the occasional one-line chorus. But as a whole, “The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We” is anything but simple. Drawing on the imagery of nature and celestial bodies, Mitski has created a piece of art that is chilling, soulful and stunningly cohesive.
The album opens with “Bug Like an Angel,” in which stripped-down verses contrast with a triumphant chorus featuring Mitski singing alongside a choir. The song also introduces listeners to Mitski’s unique lyricism, the most striking of which closes out the song: “I try to remember the wrath of the devil / Was also given him by God.” Whether an indication that she takes comfort in remembering that her shortcomings are still derived from God or a suggestion that even God has made devastating mistakes, this nod to a higher power kicks off the album with a sense of surrender that persists throughout the rest of the tracks.
The mood remains gloomy with “Buffalo Replaced,” the album’s second track Mitski paints a picture of deserted plains disrupted by freight trains and highway cars. The oddity of her lyrics, from the seemingly nonsensical concept of a “buffalo replaced” to describing a personified hope that “sh*ts where she’s supposed to, feeds herself while I’m away,” adds to the general sense of unease that the music generates. Yet, it is this embracing of the unusual that makes Mitski’s music stand out amidst other alternative artists.
Listeners are brought to a more uplifting locale in “Heaven.” Mitski’s poeticism adds an extra dimension of charm to the classic-sounding country love song. The song offers a space for reprieve: Listeners can use “Heaven” as a recess from the more somber emotions Mitski elicits in her other tracks.
The album takes an unsettling shift with the track “When Memories Snow.” The brief song starts off jarringly with Mitski’s powerful voice and eerie background vocals. The addition of sweeping instrumentals in the second half of the song improves the track, but the abruptness of the beginning throws off the album’s otherwise placid nature.
Luckily, the most beautiful song of the album follows this chaotic interlude. In “My Love Mine All Mine,” Mitski offers up her heart to the moon and asks it to shine her love down on her partner. With its soothing melody and tender lyrics, the slow track serves as a lullaby that ushers listeners into a state of pure contentment.
This calm persists with “The Frost.” Mitski’s use of the steel guitar and her description of a frost that “looks like dust settled on the world” evokes the image of an abandoned ghost town, alone and forgotten by society, just as she feels. But Mitski lifts up spirits again in the immersively ethereal “Star,” which is about a love whose light persists long after the relationship ends.
The next track, “I’m Your Man,” disrupts the dreamy atmosphere and establishes itself as one of the album’s most captivating songs. Mitski subverts the title’s traditional meaning as a pledge of loyalty, turning it into an admission of mistreatment. The song closes with incessant dog barking, playing on lines earlier in the song: “You’re an angel, I’m a dog / Or you’re a dog, and I’m your man.”
The album ends with a grand farewell in “I Love Me After You.” On the track, Mitski lists all of the luxuries she will enjoy now that she is no longer tethered to a previous relationship. The song offers an interesting twist after the preceding tracks in which isolation was the enemy and companionship was the only salvation.
Even in her love songs, Mitski seems to be pleading for release throughout “The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We.” The ascension in the finale, with its hypnotic vocals and expansive instrumentals, suggests that she has finally been granted her freedom.
Daphne is an Arts & Culture writer from Austin, Texas. She is planning on studying International and Public Affairs. Her passions include cats, running and Phoebe Bridgers.