The title for Mitski’s new album, released Sept. 15 — The Land is Inhospitable and so Are We — evokes a dual sense of sterility and intimacy. Grief drips throughout the project’s 32 minutes, but as its title suggests, Mitski manages to mingle melancholia with a distinct sense of tenderness. The artist often appeals to simple, natural images, such as insects, stars and snow, to imbue the album with comfort and familiarity; however, the record’s overall tone is nostalgic, with Mitski emphasizing that painful loss lurks behind positive memories.
Thematically, The Land is Inhospitable and so Are We feels intentional and cohesive. “When Memories Snow” and “The Frost” both incorporate the same metaphor of frozen deterioration. Sonically, the former is percussive and grating, signifying the harshness of grappling with the past. The latter showcases a softness within Mitski’s voice that points more toward acceptance, rather than struggle.
Mitski often portrays love as a detached entity — begging the question of whether it can be owned. In “Star,” she reflects on the demise of a romantic relationship. Mitski fondly looks back on her and her partner’s naivete regarding love, singing, “We were so glad/ So glad to have found it.” Yet, by equating love to a star, Mitski establishes a distance between lovers and love itself. Stars can be discovered and admired, but they cannot be grasped. Mitski encapsulates the helplessness of watching a valuable romantic relationship seemingly extinguish itself, leaving only “a leftover light” behind.
In contrast, “My Love Mine All Mine” depicts Mitski’s love as an extension of herself, something that can indeed be owned. The track contains a more saccharine, tranquil quality, as Mitski consoles herself through her immense capacity to create love. She silkily sings, “Nothing in the world belongs to me/ But my love, mine, all mine, all mine.” The repetition and simplicity of the lyrics echoes the style of 2018’s “Nobody.” However, instead of replicating the frantic feeling of failing to receive love from others found in “Nobody,” “My Love Mine All Mine” is a soothing ode to one’s own ability to produce something beautiful. Mitski perfectly captures a sentiment that is not often expressed in mainstream music.
“Heaven” and “I’m Your Man” both rely on religious imagery and play with power dynamics.
The former masquerades itself as a traditional love song, with Mitski emphasizing the impact her lover has had on her and portraying their relationship as paradise. In spite of the song’s overt gentleness, the lyrics possess a distinct undercurrent of violence, suggesting that love has rendered her to a position of subservience. The song’s first verse depicts a scenario that could be interpreted as either a domestic dispute or sexual encounter — “Your low, warm voice/ curses as you find the string/ to strike within me/ that rings out a note/ heard in heaven.”
In “I’m Your Man,” Mitski alternatively identifies herself as occupying a position of power. She quivers, “You believe me like a god/ I destroy you like I am.” This marks yet another instance of Mitski pairing two songs together as complementary perspectives. It is a clever artistic tactic that makes The Land is Inhospitable and so Are We feel round and cohesive — although it teeters on coming across as redundant.
Closer “I Love Me After You” seems like a logical culmination of the album’s theme of grief — the final stage, a buoyant release. Mitski delights in her freedom, declaring herself “king of all the land.” Unfortunately, this track translates as a somewhat forced attempt at optimism. Because even the most liberated songs on the album contain an aspect of regret or loss, “I Love Me After You” feels like an unnatural and underdeveloped ending to an otherwise nuanced body of work.
Aside from the album’s weak ending, The Land is Inhospitable and so Are We succeeds in portraying a myriad of softened, but gut-wrenching emotions and experiences. Mitski immerses her music in subtlety without compromising the intensity of her story-telling.