After Mitski Miyawaki completed touring her acclaimed album Be the Cowboy in 2019, the singer-songwriter went dark. She deactivated her social media and announced an indefinite break from music. "I've been on non-stop tour for over five years," she tweeted. "I haven't had a place to live during this time, & I sense that if I don't step away soon, my self-worth/identity will start depending too much on staying in the game, in the constant churn."
The abundance of Mitski in 2018 and 2019, from her live shows to her sardonic Twitter personality, had reached a grinding halt.
Laurel Hell, the latest album from Mitski, was over three years in the making. Several songs were written before or during 2018, the same time Be the Cowboy catapulted her to indie stardom. Yet while that breakthrough was a grand statement of female empowerment, Laurel Hell is grounded in the details of imperfect relationships and mistakes compounded.
Filled with complex compositions and astute observations, Mitski has managed to craft a bridge between her older and newer stylistic material. The album has the radiating assurance and disco flare of Be the Cowboy, for example on tracks "Stay Soft" or "Love Me More", whilst tracks such as "Valentine, Texas" and "Heat Lightening" are more derivative of her rich, gloomy and delicately haunting vocals heard on earlier albums such as Puberty 2. The mammoth success of 2018's Be the Cowboy catapulted Mitski into new heights of fame, a key theme we hear throughout Laurel Hell.
Over the last decade Mitski has marked herself out as one of the most compelling and dynamic artists in the alt pop sphere as she gradually and impressively moved from cult secret to the cusp of a genuine mainstream breakthrough with 2018's excellent fifth album Be The Cowboy. It was an ascent though that took its toll emotionally and professionally, as Mitski questioned her place in the industry, wrestling with commercial expectation and the lines of who she really was as a person and a pop 'persona' becoming increasingly blurred and distorted. Returning with Laurel Hell she has decided to cast the shackles aside and deliver her boldest and strongest musical statement yet, rejecting cult appeal for a pop sheen steeped in her own distinct image.
Mitski's ascension has been an odd one. While 'Be The Cowboy' made her the darling of the insider music scene, the public world seemed untouched. The album cover would appear on the odd Instagram story, but fans moved undercover. Like something secret, she spread by word of mouth, by friends of friends turning mutual onto 'Best American Girl'.