Moving inward - back into the darkness : On her latest record, Mitski contemplates risks taken and lessons learned :

'' Let's step carefully into the dark, '' Mitski sings to begin her new album, '' Laurel Hell, '' and continues, '' Once we're in I'll remember my way around. ''

Strategic, sure-footed, vulnerable and prepared to face all sorts of trouble : That sums up Mitski's songwriting and it has unfolded in the albums she has been making since she was a music student in 2012.

Through the succeeding decade, she has chronicled yearnings, frustrations, messy romances, the life of a performer and the persistence of doubts and questions.

Along the way, her music has moved through piano-centered orchestral pop, guitar driven indie rock and, with ''Be the Cowboy'' in 2018, a willingness to try for pop bangers.

On '' Laurel Hell '' Mitski takes just a step back from that extroversian. The new album is largely electronic and inward looking, filled with a pandemic era sense of isolation, regret and assessment. Yet Mitski doesn't entirely reject pop gloss, especially when she can give it an ironic twist.

The album cover shows her dressed in red with bold crimson lipstick, lying back with her eyes closed in an expression that could be ecstasy or torment.

Mitski's new songs grapple with depression, uncertainty, dependence and separation; she's constantly observing and interrogating herself.

Her melodies are long-breathed and deliberate, sung with calm determination, while the arrangements, largely constructed by Mitski and her longtime producer, Patrick Hyland, veer between austere, exposed meditations and perky, danceable propulsion.

As Mitski contemplates risks taken and lessons learned, her ambivalences are fine-tuned. A disco march laced with form piano chords and blippy synthesizers carries her through '' Stay Soft '' as she counsels :

''Open up your heart / Like the gates of hell,'' then declares, ''You stay soft, get beaten / Only natural to harden up.'' In ''The Only Heartbreaker'' - the album's one co-written song, by Mitski and Dan Wilson.

Throughout ''Laurel Hell,'' Mitski, now 31, both misses and rejects her youthful naivete.

In '' Working for the knife, '' she struggles to pull herself out of a creative block, over sustained synthesizer tones, a trudging beat and gusts of spaghetti - western guitar : ''I always thought the choice was mine,'' she sings. ''And I was right, but I chose wrong.''

In the stark '' Everyone '' her voice floats above an impassive, ticking drum-machine beat and doggedly repeating synthesizer notes, while Mitski admits she defied everyone's advice. Instead, ''I opened my arms wide to the dark / I said take it all, whatever you want,'' only to find later that she can't escape.

The same desperation suffuses ''Heat Lightning,'' with droning guitars and muffled drums backing a desperate confession :

''There's nothing I can do, not much I can change / I give it up to you, I surrender.''

And in the brief but telling '' I Guess, '' Mitski mourns the loss of a lifelong companion over hazy tolling keyboard chords; her vocal melody wanders in and out of dissonance, as if the outside world is oblivious to her sorrow.

Mitski deploys a full pop arsenal in '' Love Me More. '' Its title is concise and hook-ready; the track has a brisk beat and sturdy major chords, and when the chorus arrives, the drums kick harder while cascading piano chords and glittery synthesizers surround her like a barrage from a confetti cannon.

But the music's confidence utterly belies the raw longing in the lyrics. She's trying to discover the will to go on, fighting anxiety, wondering how everyone else gets through ''another day to come, then another day to come,'' and begging for someone who can ''drown it out, drown me out.''

All of her musical command can't stave off the dark.

The World Students Society thanks the album review author of The New York Times.


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