Review Summary: I'm liquid smooth
I’ll be frank, I was initially drawn to Mitski via the absurdly high score on the new releases list that isn't some derivation of metal. However, in doing so, I ended up being more interested in her first album, LUSH. Not to say I didn’t like one or the other - I thought they were both quite good - they both draw from the same pool after all. But LUSH ended up being the more tempting of the two paths, so I’ll divert your attention there.
To me, the most compelling argument for choosing this album to thoroughly listen to was the opening track: “Liquid Smooth”. I should preface this by saying I’m a sucker for these kind of tracks but that being said, it’s hard not to swoon. The track evokes a smoky lounge, grand piano in the background in somber support, with a bright spotlight on a woman clad in red. And she delivers with one of the most memorable and striking tracks I’ve heard in some while. The track, from what I can gather, regards the temporary beauty of youth and is absolutely gorgeous. Not that it’s particularly groundbreaking sonically, but Mitski’s delivery is stellar, as her sexy croons wax and gentle wavers wane in all the right places, flowing over you like the tide coming in. The emotions on display, such longing sadness, mourning and resignation are so genuine and given with such authenticity she makes me feel as though I’m watching a performance from a jilted undead spirit. And paradoxically, there’s such life to it, the vulnerability and strife she creates exemplifies the fertile beauty she exudes. This expression of the richness and depth of emotion evokes the titular lushness and is at the heart of what makes this album so good.
The bounty continues on the next track, “Eric” as the same authenticity is ever present. The weight of the anger and confusion remains another common thread fundamental to this album. Weary repetition of “How Long?” while the gloomy instrumentation creates a palpably chilling atmosphere. And while the backdrops are certainly effective in creating ambiance, I wish that the instrumental side of the the album was a bit more than token (which is the case in the newer fare from my initial impressions). I have no doubt that this was a conscious decision to shift all the attention to the feelings and power of Mitski’s delivery. But skeletal instrumental backdrops put the pressure squarely on Mitski to produce, which she does admirably but not without flaw.
This responsibility shouldered by the vocals illuminate the albums greatest weakness, the lack of variety. The tone throughout the tracklisting is pretty somber and I found myself bogged down during the later stages. ”Brand New City” provides the sole deviation from the funeral march of the rest of the album, and while the raw aggression isn’t Mitski’s strongest asset as of this outing, it was refreshing. The last 4 or so songs all mushed together into a dense meatloaf of sorts. Not a bad meatloaf mind you (I really enjoyed “Bag of Bones”), while no track was bad or not well executed in it’s intent, they were just less appealing being the second of two dense emotional meatloaves in a row. I felt the songs became a bit sluggish and self-indulgent: at a certain point I didn’t want to decode another love metaphor or endure another 3 minutes of dreary warbling. When all was said and done, a few tired exhales and eye-rolls later, I ended the album fairly bored with a bland taste in my mouth.
This is not however, an excuse not to swan dive into this album (it is certainly viscous enough). If you listen to this whole thing bow to stern, you’ll probably find yourself pretty tired but if you surgeon it into digestible bits, you’ll find there are many more good apples than bad ones and also that this mixed metaphor is really confusing.