"Let’s step carefully into the dark,” Mitski sings to begin her new album, "Laurel Hell,” and continues, "Once we’re in I’ll remember my way around.”
Strategic, sure-footed, vulnerable and prepared to face all sorts of trouble: That sums up Mitski’s songwriting as it has unfolded on the albums she has been making since she was a music student in 2012. Over the decade, the Japanese American singer has chronicled yearnings, frustrations, messy romances, the life of a performer and the persistence of doubts and questions. Along the way, her music has moved through piano-centered orchestral pop, guitar-driven indie-rock and, with "Be the Cowboy” in 2018, a willingness to try for pop bangers.
On "Laurel Hell” (Dead Oceans), Mitski takes just half a step back from that extroversion. The new album is largely electronic and inward-looking, filled with a pandemic-era sense of isolation, regret and reassessment. Yet Mitski doesn’t entirely reject pop gloss, especially when she can give it an ironic twist. The album cover shows her dressed in red with bold crimson lipstick, laying back with her eyes closed in an expression that could be ecstasy or torment.