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Altrok Showcase w/ Sean Carolan

CD of The Week

Week of 9/18/23

    Mitski - The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We (Dead Oceans)

    After close to a decade of adding more and more maximalist muscle to her music, it's both refreshing and intriguing to hear Mitski return to her more rustic roots with The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We. The title is both confrontational and reassuring, an accusation muted with empathy. Using more organic sounds than anything on last year's Billboard-charting Laurel Hell, it pivots from that album's frustrated tone to plumb the depths of our desire for connection and companionship with as much heart and heft as any of the singer/songwriter's previous triumphs.

    Synthy, somber, and at times even cynical, Laurel Hell led with professional malaise that hinted at another retirement before her contract was renegotiated. That album's sonic intensity gives way to wide open spaces on The Land…, filled with lush orchestration and the harmonies of a 17-person choir. At times, it threatens to echo the sauntering waltzes of last year's warm, romantic Angel Olsen album Big Time, especially when the slide guitar joins the party. But this is Mitski we're talking about, and Mitski always remembers to chase a shot of beauty with uncomfortable reality. Sure, you might find a bug that looks like an angel, but that's because it's floating in a drink you poured yourself to forget how lonely you are. Only three songs later, there are no divine bugs to be found as she wails "I Don't Like My Mind." 

    A similar dichotomy occurs musically as the album progresses. We move from Angel's slide guitars and woodwinds worthy of Sufjan Stevens into longing, languid grinds that echo PJ Harvey at her most spectral, right down to how Mitski sings on "I'm Your Man". That song is followed by a contender for best Mitski album closer: "I Love Me After You" starts as another Polly Jean ringer in how it frames the give and take of love with one's surroundings before going ever so slightly grungy in the way The Breeders can at their most spare.

    While not as immediate as the albums that came before it, The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We still proves itself a worthy addition to the Mitski catalog that once again finds her doing something different sonically while still sounding distinctly like her. The land may be inhospitable, but as always Mitski offers a comforting spot to appreciate the view.

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    Review by Rob Huff

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