Discarding the mania and disco pop of tracks like “Washing Machine Heart” (2018) and the heart-breaking rage behind others like “Brand New City” (2012), Mitski’s seventh studio album heralds a new, quiet and reflective age of Mitski’s artistry. “The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We” (2023) was released on Sept. 15 to much initial acclaim, and for good reason.
“There’s a bug like an angel stuck to the bottom / Of my glass,” the 32-year-old woman sings as she opens her album. She explains how as she has grown older she’s discovered she’s a drinker: “Sometimes, a drink feels like family.” There’s a simple intimacy to the minimal production in this lead single, “Bug Like an Angel.” This song serves as an introduction into a new world of Mitski where nature, her emotions and the supernatural all interact.
She proceeds into “Buffalo Replaced,” where her juxtaposition of the natural and the anthropic is solidified as a guiding theme of the album. This song, like many off the album, takes place at night; Mitski describes a scene of fireflies and children in the yard, of mosquitoes “enjoying” her and Mitski similarly “suckin’ up as much of the full moon.” She culminates the verse with an even clearer parallel, singing, “Freight train stampedin’ through my backyard / It’ll run across the plains like the new buffalo replaced.”
“The Deal” is the next stand-out song as Mitski describes the weight of her soul and a deal she made to give it up on a walk one night just to feel less pain. Afterwards, she is told by a bird, “Your pain is eased but you’ll never be free.” Mitski tears down the boundary between herself and her environment, between her consciousness and whatever amorphous, worldly energy surrounds her on this planet. And in doing so, she connects to her listeners and bares her soul to them in a way that is more intimate than much of her previous work.
But the best track off the album is “I’m Your Man.” The most original in its soundscape, the most heartfelt in its lyrics, “I’m Your Man” is a song that stays with you. Days later, the closing line, “You believe me like a god / I betray you like a man,” will still replay over and over in your head. There’s something haunting about this track. It epitomizes the way this album lingers between reality and something untouchable and surreal which Mitski brings into our realm of understanding.
Many indie albums can suffer, ironically, from an excess of the minimal. Lorde’s “Solar Power” (2021), for instance, serves as an example of the dull lifelessness that can result when minimalism has too little direction and too little material for the listener to grab onto and make their own. Mitski’s “The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We,” on the other hand, is a rare success of minimalism in music. The simplicity of Mitski’s melodies pair naturally with her use of strings, woodwinds and country-style guitar. The ease of her lyrical honesty, both imaginative, surreal and intimately mundane, breathes life into the music and creates a cohesive project. The album doesn’t suffer from the general lack of a high point. Instead, Mitski has created a new soundscape in which every track fits neatly and rightly.
“The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We” is an album for smoking a cigarette on your front porch under the harvest moon, or walking home alone in the tender quiet of the morning’s early hours. It’s still Mitski, familiar but fresh, and it might be one of her best releases to date.