“As I got older, I learned I’m a drinker. Sometimes, a drink feels like family,” are the lyrics that begin “Bug Like an Angel,”, the first track on Mitski’s seventh studio album.
For only a moment, a choir breaks out to echo the word ‘family,’ emphasizing the otherwise stark acoustic emptiness that forms the rest of the song’s sound. The album in question, titled “This Land is Inhospitable and So Are We” as a half-joke-half-truth, is the latest in a career full of works that touch on themes of isolation and American identity.
Though the album isn’t breaking new ground for the artist thematically, “This Land is Inhospitable and So Are We” does stand out among the rest of Mitski’s oeuvre because of how remarkably hopeful it ends up being. There is clarity in how Mitski views herself, with the song “Buffalo Replaced” finding the singer free and reckless in the wild, stripped away from the constraints of industry and modernity. Growing pains abound as she starts to find herself and settle into a sense of hope throughout the album, which ends with her saying she’s “king of all the land” in the final track “I Love Me After You.”
In an interview with NPR, Mitski said the album is her “most American,” relating to the notion that most Americans feel like they’re striving to fit into what American identity means. As a woman who is half white and half Asian, Mitski said " I don't really fit into either community very well. I am an other in America, even though I am American. And I almost feel like a majority of Americans are actually other, and that's kind of what makes America what it is.”.
The album's sound is reminiscent of American folk songs and incorporates tropes all the way from sea shanties to the sounds of classic Hollywood film scores. Producer Drew Erickson, who previously worked on Father John Misty’s similarly folk-inspired “Chloë and the 20th Century,”, lends his talents to the album as well, adding glorious orchestral arrangements that accompany each ballad.
Though it isn’t her first album since coming back to the industry after a public hiatus, “This Land is Inhospitable and So Are We” focuses more on Mitski’s headspace over the past few years than the synthy and mainstream pop-focused “Laurel Hell” album, which was released early last year.
In 2019, Mitski announced she would be taking a hiatus and a coming performance of hers in Central Park would be her last indefinitely. Though she did not reveal it publicly, the singer later admitted she strongly considered retiring her solo music career altogether.
“Looking back, it was more mentally [about] being a working person in the music industry, which is like this super-saturated version of consumerism” Mitski revealed in an interview with BBC last year.
On “I Don’t Like My Mind", she narrates a story about eating a cake on an “inconvenient Christmas” just to end up throwing it all up after she gets sick. The memory rattles on in her mind, waiting to be told in a song.
“Please don’t take this job from me,” she begs herself in the song’s final chorus.
The line speaks to an eternal struggle many artists have addressed regarding the purity of the love they have for their work versus the industry and economic machines they must navigate to keep working. When your job and your passion is to make art about the experiences you have, it becomes impossible to fight the urge to create, even when you’re just eating too much cake on a holiday.