Lots of musicians try to write music that speaks to real human experiences and emotions. It feels good to find a piece of media or hear a piece of music that relates to something you have experienced. Not all musicians are able to pull off making relatable music without it feeling overly cliché, or like it’s trying too hard but not saying anything really meaningful. However, I think that Anaïs Mitchell is one of those special few musicians who is currently releasing impactful music that speaks to intimate feelings of love, loss, solitude, and growing up.
Anaïs Mitchell’s self-titled album came out on January 28 of this year and is her first collection of new material released under her own name in a decade. Admittedly, I had never heard of Anaïs Mitchell before her original musical Hadestown hit it big on Broadway in 2019. Mitchell released a few solo albums between 2004 and 2012 and has released multiple albums in collaboration with other artists, including her folk band Bonny Light Horseman’s first self-titled album that came out in 2020. I am a big fan of Hadestown and Mitchell’s 2012 album Young Man in America, so I was really excited to hear Anaïs Mitchell.
The album lived up to and exceeded all of my expectations. It reminds me a lot of the sound, vibes, and themes touched on by Mt. A alumni Keeper E. and Clare Siobhan, while also feeling fresh and new. The songs on Anaïs Mitchell are often simple and gentle, but you can tell that each song was made with lots of love and care. The instrumentation and backing vocals are unique but not overpowering, allowing Mitchell’s voice smoothly sail into your ears. The single “Bright Star” is a beautiful, romantic song about being drawn to someone over and over again. “Real World” is a short little tune about wanting to experience the small, real, tangible joys in life, like “passing around vegetables with real folks at a real table.”
“Backroads” touches on topics personal and political, but the real standout line to me was “cliché on the radio speaking straight to my soul” because that is exactly what Anaïs Mitchell achieves with this album. Mitchell peppers in little clichés along with her deeply personal lyrics, making the themes of each song feel more universal but still authentic. “Little Big Girl” is a great example of her use of clichés In lines like “you keep on getting older but you feel just like a kid” and “try to act your age now but you don’t know how it’s done. All grown up and somehow still afraid to disappoint someone” may be a little cliché, but that does not mean that they aren’t still deeply relatable. “Watershed” is also a standout track to me; its soothing repetitiveness and themes of hope and overcoming challenges, characterize it as the perfect closer for the album. “Nobody gave you a map of the ridge, you climbed one mountain and you found the next.”
This is the album every twenty-something needs to have playing in their ears while walking through their favourite snow-covered small town in early February. Between Anaïs Mitchell and Mitski’s newly released album Laurel Hell, now is a great time to settle comfortably down in your emotions on a cold winter’s night.