Japanese-American indie-rock musician Mitski is one of the most interesting figures currently working in popular music – Iggy Pop famously labelled her as “the most advanced American songwriter that I know”. While guitar rock can sometimes feel stale in the 21st century, Mitski’s fascinating. Her music often feels like the work of an outsider looking in; her father worked for the US state department and she moved frequently as a child. This feeling of disconnection has inspired an ardent fanbase.
Mitski’s work has gone through significant stylistic shifts – her first two records are brief piano-based albums that she recorded as projects while studying music, while she also served as vocalist for the progressive rock band Voice Coils. But she’s best known for her alternative guitar-rock – in this writer’s opinion, ‘Your Best American Girl’, which recalls the Pixies with its quiet-loud dynamics, is the best rock song of the 2010s.
With Mitski’s new album, Laurel Hell, just released, here are her first six records ranked from worst to best.
Mitski Albums Ranked
It’s a little unfair to include Mitski’s first two albums on this countdown – they’re essentially student projects from her time at Purchase College’s Conservatory of Music. They’re different from her later work, based around piano and orchestration. Lush, her debut, is brief and succinct. There’s a clear debt to Björk on songs like ‘Eric’, while the guitar rocker ‘Brand New City’ is indicative of her future direction.
#5 Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
Mitski’s second record is similar to the piano and orchestration of her debut, but it’s more sophisticated and confident. The loopy orchestration on ‘Goodbye, My Danish Sweetheart’ provide more personality than anything on her debut, while the dramatic strings of ‘Shame’ are also effective. There’s mournful piano on ‘Humpty’ and the upbeat ‘Strawberry Blond’ – plenty of musical ideas, but it’s brief and lightweight compared to her later work.
#4 Puberty 2
Puberty 2 is a little overshadowed by the records released before and after it, but it’s still very good. Mitski steers close to punk on ‘My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars’, while ‘I Bet On Losing Dogs’ is pretty. ‘Your Best American Girl’ is her definitive song, packing her alienation thems into a soaring and viciously intelligent rock song.
#3 Laurel Hell
There was an unusually large pause between Mitski’s fifth and sixth albums. When she finally returned with Laurel Hell, Mitski still employed the sophisticated pop textures of Be The Cowboy. But where that album felt intoxicated with the endless possibilities of the studio, Laurel Hell feels unsatisfied. On the lead single ‘Working for the Knife’, Mitski sings “Now at twenty-nine, the road ahead appears the same”. The use of dance beats on tracks like ‘Stay Soft’ and the excellent closer ‘That’s Our Lamp’ are a welcome addition to Mitski’s catalogue.
#2 Bury Me At Makeout Creek
Released only a year after Retired from Sad, New Career in Business, Mitski is a fully-fledged recording artist on Bury Me At Makeout Creek. Named after a quote from The Simpsons, Bury Me At Makeout Creek explores a retro-1990s alt-rock sound. The opener ‘Texas Rezkivnoff’ starts gently before exploding mid-song. There’s an enjoyable balance between cathartic rockers like ‘Townie’ and gentler material like ‘Last Words of a Shooting Star’.
#1 Be The Cowboy
The guitar-heavy attack of Mitski’s previous albums is present on songs like ‘A Pearl’ and ‘Geyser’, but Be The Cowboy is closer to art-rock. It’s her most diverse record yet – ‘Why Didn’t You Stop Me?’ veers close to synth-pop while ‘A Horse Named Cold Air’ is moody and sparse. Be The Cowboy is fast-moving, packing 14 tracks into 33 minutes. And it might just be the best record of its decade.
Are you a Mitski fan? What’s your pick for her best record?
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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
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