Today, Mitski — "the most alluring and enigmatic musician in indie rock" (Rolling Stone) — announces her new album, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, out September 15th on Dead Oceans, and presents its anthemic lead single, “Bug Like an Angel.” In this album, which is Mitski’s most sonically expansive, epic, and wise album to-date, the songs seem to be introducing wounds and then actively healing them. Here, love is time-traveling to bless our tender days, like the light from a distant star. The album is full of the ache of the grown-up, seemingly mundane heartbreaks and joys that are often unsung but feel enormous. From the bottom of a glass, to a driveway slushy with memory and snow, to a freight train barreling through the Midwest, and all the way to the moon, it feels like everything, and everyone, is crying out, screaming in pain, arching towards love.
Mitski wrote these songs in little bursts over the past few years, and they feel informed by moments of noticing – noticing a sound that’s out of place, a building that groans in decay, an opinion that splits a room, a feeling that can’t be contained in a body. It was recorded at both the Bomb Shelter in East Nashville and Sunset Sound Studios in Los Angeles, and incorporates an orchestra arranged and conducted by Drew Erickson, as well as a full choir of 17 people — 12 in Los Angeles and 5 in Nashville — arranged by Mitski. For the first time, it felt important to Mitski to have a band recording live together in the studio, to create this new sublime sound. Working with her longtime producer Patrick Hyland, the album has a wide-range of references, from Ennio Morricone’s bombastic Spaghetti Western scores to Carter Burwell’s tundra-filling Fargo soundtrack, from the breathy intimacy of Arthur Russell to the strident aliveness of Scott Walker or Igor Stravinsky, from the jubilation of Caetano Veloso to the twangy longing of Faron Young.
Lead single “Bug Like an Angel” finds the divine in the ordinary, in the boozy drowning of sorrow. The narrator sings from the strange comfort of rock bottom: “sometimes a drink feels like family.” And suddenly, that choir of angels sings: “FAMILY!” This first track introduces a cosmic paradox: “The wrath of the devil was also given him by God.” This is an album in which dark and light exist in the same gesture, the same broken prayer. Like the Buddha inviting the demon Mara in for tea, The Land embraces brutal, daily pain — the necessary toll of transcendent love.
The accompanying “Bug Like an Angel” video — directed by Noel Paul — explores community and an unflinching look at self-destruction so extreme it verges on a state of dance. The song’s narrator is depicted as a woman staggering and collapsing outside of a bar, welcomed by and ultimately rejecting the gentle embrace of a choir of which Mitski is a member.
The Land repeatedly offers the same hypothesis. Without love, is there anyone here? Love is always radical, which means that it always disrupts, which means that it always takes work to receive it. This land, which already feels inhospitable to so many of its inhabitants, is about to feel hopelessly torn and tossed again – at times, devoid of love. This album offers the anodyne. “This is my most American album,” Mitski says of her seventh album, and the music feels like a profound act of witnessing this country, in all of its private sorrows and painful contradictions. But “maybe it’s beyond witnessing,” she says.
Sometimes, Mitski says, it feels like life would be easier without hope, or a soul, or love. But when she closes her eyes and thinks about what’s truly hers, what can’t be repossessed or demolished, she sees love. “The best thing I ever did in my life was to love people,” Mitski says. “I wish I could leave behind all the love I have, after I die, so that I can shine all this goodness, all this good love that I’ve created onto other people.” She hopes The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We will continue to shine that love long after she’s gone. Listening to it, that’s precisely how it feels: like a love that’s haunting the land.