Mitski’s new single ‘Heat Lightning’ is a powerful exploration of insomnia delivered in typical Mitski fashion, writes Music Critic Riley Wells

Written by Riley Wells
Last updated
Images by David Lee

After a three-year hiatus and social media detox, Mitski has returned with three singles, the promise of a new album, a new merchandise range and a 2022 tour across the North America and Europe. Fans are gearing up for the release of the sixth studio album of the Japanese-American singer-songwriter, whose music became popular on the social media tycoon TikTok during her break from the internet. ‘Heat Lightning,’ released alongside a music video on 7th December 2021 under the independent label Dead Oceans, is the latest single from Mitski and ‘ode to insomnia,’ the singer told NME.

[…] the story of so many sleepless nights unfolds like origami in reverse

The slow-drawn, dreamy vocals of ‘Heat Lightning’ mark a return to other classic Mitski tracks such as ‘Two Slow Dancers’ and ‘Blue Light.’ With her ethereal and delicate vocals, the singer-songwriter manages the impossible task of making any words sound beautiful; ‘Heat Lightning’ is no exception, and over the course of just two minutes and 52 seconds, the story of so many sleepless nights unfolds like origami in reverse. Meanwhile, the subdued notes of the guitar reflect the building tension and frustration of continuous insomnia and waiting for something that will never come. 

Another key element to the track is the feeling of helplessness, such as in the lines, ‘And there’s nothing I can do / Not much I can change / So I give it up to you / I surrender.’ With her voice haunting every line of the song, Mitski perfectly portrays the disconnect of mind and body, as well as the forced surrender of someone to their health problems. This is not the first time Mitski has written such songs, however, as the majority of her tracks incorporate elements of mental or physical illness into their lyrics. One example of such surrender is in the 2020 track ‘Cop Car’ which was released on the soundtrack of The Turning: ‘I don’t think about the past / It’s always there anyway.’

‘Heat Lightning’ paints a distressingly beautiful picture of insomnia

Overall, ‘Heat Lightning’ paints a distressingly beautiful picture of insomnia as well as giving new listeners a holistic overview of many classic Mitski tracks, creating a starting point for listeners to become bigger fans of the singer. On a scale from 1-10 I would rate it a 9, but that is just because I am biased towards ‘Brand New City,’ one of Mitski’s earlier tracks from the 2012 album Lush.

Mitski’s sixth studio album, Laurel Hell, will be released on 4th February 2022. The Laurel Hell tour enters its U.K. segment on 21st April 2022 in Bristol before ending on 29th April 2022 at the O2 Academy Brixton in London.

Rating: 9/10

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