I’m something of a newcomer to Mitski – discovering her work late however, has been no less intense an experience. Almost every day during the Easter break, I would walk our dogs around the fields in my village, and listen to the whole of Bury Me at Makeout Creek. It’s an awesome record in the truest sense of the word; a tsunami of cerebrally assessed feminist standpoints and, more simply, a gut-wrenchingly emotional listen. Here, on her fourth album, Mitski remains as charged and contemplative as ever – it’s a more demanding listen for sure, but the effort is, quite frankly, worth it.
I actually discovered this artist through Pitchfork’s coverage of this album’s lead single, Your Best American Girl. It’s the best song on the record, detailing the age-old topic of unrequited love in a way that’s never been done before; through a lens of grimly accepted nationalist divides – in short, the singer tragically resigns herself from happiness because of her ethnic otherness. Paradoxically, this socially outdated concept is actually the musing of an extremely contemporary voice; just because things shouldn’t be this way, no one ever seems to talk about it. Certainly, it’s a very brave subject matter to tackle in a lead single. If all of this weren’t enough, Mitski employs beautiful chords and a broad, throbbing loudness dynamic straight off of Pixies’ Surfer Rosa as her musical backdrop. Perfect.
Elsewhere, opener Happy is another slice of perfectly-cooked anti-pop, characterised by a structural conflict of catchy melodies and absurdly ugly textures (here, these are bizzare electronic percussion and an excellent ★ saxophone line). Its lyrics are similarly troubling as a personified adjective appears to maintain a quasi-aggressive sexual relationship with the narrator, made even more intimidating by the presence of that choice innocuous foodstuff, the cookie. After Happy, Dan The Dancer is probably the most accessible track here, bounding along into a thick keyboard solo like something off of Pinkerton. The voice, again, is strained and dark, detailing (it would seem) loss of virginity.
The rest of this album, whilst excellent, can be trialling on the first listen. The atonal and discordant qualities, whilst enchanting, are just a fraction less normalised than on Makeout Creek. That’s no bad thing, not by a long shot, it’s just that the appeal can’t be as instant. That said, on my fourth and fifth goes round, I’ve begun feeling very rewarded by my commitment to these songs, as their sad messages are corkscrewed further into my heart. Once More To See You is a bass-driven plodder in the vein of her earlier First Love/Late Spring, whilst the speedier Fireworks merely threaten to take-off before ending prematurely, a beautifully apt inversion of its name if perhaps not what you’d first expect. I Bet On Losing Dogs sees the vocal line introduced on a very strange note, before those grating keyboards come back, launching the track into full wonky-pop mode with a faux-string arrangement à la Neutral Milk Hotel’s The Fool. These lyrics are amongst the saddest on the album, as Mitski places bets that will certainly fail so that she and the losing animals can feel an emotional connection.
The second side of this record is characterised by a more raw sound. Three sub-two minute tracks reside here, some of them fantastic, some of them less. The buoyancy of A Loving Feeling is indebted surely to the saccharin pop of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and yet it’s scratchy tones are the indisputable offspring of punk. The demo-like A Burning Hill is a lo-fi affair that acts as a sweet little bookend for the record after the massive depression of Crack Baby, a song mired in droning electronic arrangements and sounding altogether like a baby mobile that’s been smashed to buggery, but not so much that it can’t still crank out one last despaired tune. Burning Hill sees Mitski coming to terms with the conflicted words decorating her record; there is calm and collectedness. If the record is about the torture of adolescence, then this finale, for all its brevity and vocal monotony, must represent the crushing resolution of reasoned adulthood. It’s a sad ending to a sad album.
Unaccounted for then, are My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars and Thursday Girl – they’re not bad tracks, but sharp mastering and a comparatively bland melody respectively, make them more forgettable moments, lost in the calm eye of this fuming maelstrom.
Mitski is without a doubt, one of the most exciting singer-songwriters out there right now There’s a very likeable concession to life with her music, which divorces emotional qualms from the abstract forums for discussion that are normaly utilised. Mitski won’t write a song about feminism specifically, or entrench her emotional standpoint in a way that makes it inaccessible or intimidating to those unlike her. Instead, she paints fascinating soundscapes in which these items for consideration are planted like saplings and allowed to weave their way into the fabric of the wider universe. In borrowing from the past with her melodic pop, and destroying the capacity for radio-friendliness with her sincere realism, she is a postmodern icon and definitely one to watch.