Mitski The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We Dead Oceans
On The Frost, the eighth track on her seventh album The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, Mitski Miyawaki imagines the apocalypse. “The frost/ It looks like dust settled on the world/ After everyone’s long been gone,” she sings in her Mitski-typical tone: mournful but matter-of-fact, though here offset by the earnest curve of a guitar lick, and more than a little bit country. “But me, I was hiding/ Forgotten, the only one left,” she continues, “Now the world is mine alone.”
The lyrical focus of the track soon comes into focus. “I’ve no one, no one to share the memory/ Of frost out the window/ This morning after you’re gone/ And the house is mine alone.” From here, the jaunty rhythm and travellin’ song-style guitars gain steam, as if they too are leaving Mitski in the dust. And it’s only when we’re given this closer look that we get the full picture – one that Mitski, in 2023, is perhaps uniquely skilled at painting. When love leaves, it feels like the world is ending. And even worse: you’re enduring it all alone.
It’s worth examining The Frost because it feels like it gets at the emotional crux of The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We. This is a reasonably unfussy record, almost an essential distillation of Mitski as she is now. Her star themes – alienation, emotional isolation, our relationships with ourselves – remain, as do many of her musical calling cards (slow-dance balladry, the occasional big, showy number), though she has embraced some of the sounds of her surroundings in Nashville, Tennessee, where she moved in 2020. This results in what she has called her “most American record”. It’s not quite a new direction, then, though some of the instrumentation (those country-style guitars, for example) does feel novel for a Mitski album.
@mitskileaks Mitski on the symbolism of pirate lines, her favorite additions on the recording, and inviting the patriarchy in your head to the table on “I’m Your Man” #tliiasaw #thelandisinhospitableandsoarewe #tliiasawmitski #mitski ♬ I'm Your Man – Mitski
Known for her keen attunement to the inner travails of the self (her 2018 single Nobody, which commits the spiralling inward drama of loneliness to record, is her great masterpiece in this regard), Mitski continues this work to devastating effect on this record. On I Don’t Like My Mind, for example, her narrator details a coping mechanism employed to get through a lonely Christmas – “I eat a cake, a whole cake, all for me!” – though the description soon becomes frenzied, and the closest thing the song has to a refrain are the words “a whole cake” repeated and belted with an almost uneasy intensity.
Elsewhere, on When Memories Snow, Mitski articulates carrying on with the mundanity of life even through the pain of heartbreak. “I shovel up those memories/ Clear a path to drive to the store,” she deadpans, before the song blows up with the musical theatre grandiosity she showcased on 2022’s Laurel Hell, as if to demonstrate the cyclone raging inside her as she puts her milk and eggs on the checkout conveyor belt.
Ultimately, Mitski seeks to shine light on and afford pathos to the things we think, do and feel when no one is looking. This album’s foray into these subjects is interesting, considering her complex relationship with being perceived. Mitski removed herself from social media in 2019 due to the glare of its constant scrutiny, threatening to quit music entirely; but this has not sullied her fans’ enthusiasm. They are notably rabid (the crowd response at her last run of shows at Brixton Academy, for example, was genuinely alarming – at points their singing and screaming drowned her out entirely). She, in turn, was notably uncomfortable with it.
As such, throughout her artistic life, Mitski has leaned on the anonymity of characters and narrators in many of her songs, perhaps to place a buffer between her raw emotions and the way her music is received. On this album, however, she goes one further, introducing more voices, in the shape of a 13-person choir, which enters on the very first track, Bug Like an Angel. These new singers share the song’s emotional burden – at times themselves like another instrument – hinting that despite the individual psychodramas that Mitski so finely details, there is salvation to be found in others.
Indeed, that seems to be the message on the album’s sweet, tender highlight, My Love Mine All Mine. On the track – defined by a slow, simple chord progression, led by piano and percussion – she sings: “Nothing in the world belongs to me/ But my love, mine all mine all mine.” Her voice starts low and steady, as though she has truly accepted the words she is saying. And while the self is and will always be her great muse, on The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, Mitski acknowledges that though we may feel love in our hearts, our heads, our bodies, it’s other people who put it there in the first place.