Emma Sweeney ’27
Folk and country music have always been storytelling genres with unique senses of tradition, something Mitski utilizes as she explores what has been passed down to her: pain, change, memories, and love in her new album The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We.
The opening song of The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We is “Bug Like an Angel,” a new personal favorite of mine. Mitski presents the listener with the story of an individual who has inherited the tradition of alcoholism from their family, sending them into a cycle: breaking promises, bent over in sickness, and vowing never to drink again. The repeating chord progression reiterated these cyclical feelings.
Continuing with societal and familial traditions, “I’m Your Man” focuses on patriarchal traditions. Mitski sings “I’m Your Man” from the point of view of what she considers to be the patriarch in her mind. Personally, I adore this song and how it describes society’s tendency to put men on a pedestal and celebrate them for their masculinity while the patriarchal system does more harm than good. In this song, Mitski’s inner patriarch states that it is unfortunate that people adore him so unquestioningly, and that one day society will learn that he never deserved the divinity handed to him.
The second song on the album is “Buffalo Replaced,” another favorite of mine that discusses change through American expansion and industrialism. This song also discusses how hope is blind to circumstance and maintains itself for people to survive.
“The Frost”, the eighth song on the track, shares a similar theme. It focuses on isolation, pushing others away, and actions that cause the speaker to live in a world with no one to speak to and no one to witness them. I tend to read into things (which is good considering my Editors-in-Chief need me to hit a word count), and this song took me right back to seventh-grade physics and the observer effect in quantum mechanics. By observing a situation, the observer fundamentally changes the circumstance. Without an observer, Mitski is fundamentally different. Who are we when there is no one left to influence us?
The next three songs tell a story of memories, regrets, and maladaptive behaviors. Mitski dives into these topics expertly, although not covering every aspect as she only has so much time. I enjoy listening to her music surrounding these themes, as it not only acts as a reminder that one is not alone when struggling, but it also allows one to explore and understand oneself through Mitski’s interpretation. This three-act play begins with the fourth track, “I Don’t Like My Mind”. This song tears me apart as she details how being left alone with her thoughts is torture, especially when caught in a loop of past decisions and mistakes.
Mitski follows this with the various ways she tries to occupy herself: loud music, hard work, and overeating. The last of these coping mechanisms causes her to become sick, creating a new painful memory. The song ends with her begging to keep her job, a metaphor for her coping skill of self-exploitation. Musically, this song has more country influence as she croons with an air of desperation.
“The Deal” tells a story of wanting to give away one’s soul to end the pain. Without a soul, one has no memories or emotions, allowing the cycle of hurt to end finally. As Mitski gives her soul away, she describes seeing a bird as the manifestation of her soul leaving and flying away with all of the joy she has ever and will feel. “The Deal” ends with Mitski repeating herself as the music overtakes her voice, echoing in the background until it is lost, implying that to remove one’s soul is to remove one’s entirety.
In the final act, “When the Memories Snow,” Mitski details attempting to push aside negative memories to get rid of the pain while leaving her on the edge of a breakdown. Her emotional turmoil leaves her wondering if she should take a break and only express herself with her imagination, something she can orchestrate to give solely positive responses.
These three songs connect not only thematically but narratively. They tell a story of struggling with mental health, wanting to lose the ability to feel due to that struggle, and since that is impossible, wondering how to deal with everything without breaking down. This almost cyclical tale is unsatisfying but very realistic. There is no easy fix for these kinds of struggles and Mitski encapsulates that through the baby steps of progress we see in the last song. Healing is possible but one must be patient and I love that kind of cautious optimism, as it feels more genuine than an automatic happy ending.
The third piece, “Heaven,” is about the wonders of being in love and the intimacy of it all on display. Although I agree with the message, I do not particularly like this song. It is too repetitive and contrived, but maybe I’m just lonely.
The next love song on the album is “My Love Mine All Mine.” Mitski laments that she cannot leave behind the one thing she truly owns for the rest of the world: love. Her body, material possessions, and other people will leave or fail her eventually, but love is ever present and gives a renewed sense of life and worth. This song is so catchy and tugs at my heartstrings. It is definitely repetitive but in this case, there is perfect dreamy emphasis.
“Star” is a song about two people whose love has come to an end. To Mitski, love is a star. Although it may fade or travel far away, it is still beautiful. I love this message and agree with it wholeheartedly. This song has a beautiful build-up that absolutely entrances me every time. “Star” then ends with notes that sparkle like the celestial bodies themselves. This song is so heavenly and left me feeling like I was floating.
The last song, “I Love Me After You,” is one of my top three songs on the album. This piece tells the story of learning to love oneself after the end of a relationship. Mitski opens with soft humming and lyrics about self-care, then crescendos into pursuing self-confidence. The song ends with Mitski expressing that she is proud of who she is, and at last, happy to be herself. This song perfectly encapsulates how lovely it feels to finally leave a toxic relationship and rediscover yourself, something I have personally experienced. As this song hits close to home I feel very connected to it and although I don’t find it as musically appealing as some other songs on this album, the content of the lyrics is what I gravitate toward.
Although it isn’t my favorite, I enjoyed this new album. I will certainly be listening to it repeatedly to look for anything I missed in this review. I believe the main takeaway from this album is that although The Land is Inhospitable, and So Are We, aspects of life such as joy, love, and people are worth the suffering.
Image Source: Emma Sweeney ’27