Fans might be surprised that Mitski Miyawaki is releasing her seventh album just a year and a half after her sixth, not least because there was a point not so long ago where it looked like she was done with music for good. In 2019 she deleted her social media accounts and announced that she would stop performing live. Since then, though she clearly remains unsettled by the obsessive fandom that flourishes on the internet, her about-turn has been so substantial that it has included gigs supporting Harry Styles in stadiums, a global headline tour, and, on last year’s Laurel Hell album, some of her most pop-facing music yet.
Now, time for another change of direction. Gone is the Eighties-leaning synthpop of Laurel Hell in favour of a sound that at times could pass for old-time country. Much of this album was recorded in Nashville, where the Japan-born artist now lives, and some of the backing band arrive with names that mean they could only have grown up to become either country musicians or horse thieves: keyboardist Brooke Waggoner and pedal steel guitarist Fats Kaplin. There’s also orchestral arranger Drew Erickson, last heard on Lana Del Rey’s recent albums, and a 17-strong choir.
Spend time with this one and, as with all Mitski’s other albums, you won’t feel like you’ve only been here half an hour. The 11 songs are short but stuffed with unexpected sonic touches and lyrics that catch the listener unawares. Bug Like an Angel opens proceedings with an understated acoustic strum that makes the arrival of the choir a startling delight. I’m Your Man similarly starts out feeling like a standard guitar ballad, but turns out to be about an intense relationship with a dog and ends with the full croaking, barking racket of nature at night. The Deal piles an avalanche of drums onto its pretty violin and guitar as she spins a tale of giving her soul to a bird and finding that it wasn’t a good idea: “You’re a cage without me/Your pain is eased but you’ll never be free.”
This time the end result places her beside other current musicians who are working with what might appear to be a lush, old-fashioned singer-songwriter style, and taking it to stranger places if you listen closely: Weyes Blood,Father John Misty and those later Lana Del Rey works. If she tried playing those songs to Harry Styles’s stadium screamers she’d lose them instantly, but on headphones, ideally in the dark, she can mesmerise.