If you’re to believe the papers, the music industry is dying. Streaming and devolving merchandise standards have left a whole subsection of the art form in utter despair. But while some fall, others have risen amid a new generation of music lovers, and the empirically talented Mitski is one of them. A run of soon-to-be classic alt-pop albums has seen her star rise and all without the aid of social media or needless, ugly promo runs. It has made Mitski one of the most beloved artists working right now.
An artist with such a devoted fanbase is always an intriguing proposition. While many of Mitski’s fans would be willing to go to war over her idiosyncratic lyrics, bouncing off-beat rhythms and propensity for existential epiphanies in the mire of normalcy, there must always be a realisation that Mitski, like the rest of us, is a composite of all her influences and inspirations balled up into one perfectly wonderful heap of brilliance. It makes finding out these influences and inspirations all the more tantalising.
Luckily, we have a small window into Mitski’s array of inspirational figures via Vinyl Me Please, who asked the artist for her five most essential albums back in 2016. Of course, with a dated list, there must be a caveat in place that Mitski’s tastes may have altered slightly in the time that has passed. However, considering the breadth and depth of her choices, we’d imagine that these are the albums that provided foundational stones in her musical development.
Anyone arriving on this list and hoping to see Madonna, Pixies or any other alt-pop dreamers is to be thoroughly disappointed. While Mitski has made a name for herself in the realm of popular music, it is the more complex moments of music’s history that seem to resonate most succinctly with the artist. First up is Joni Mitchell-approved Charles Mingus, one of the foremost jazz performers and a keystone for anyone looking to bridge several genres at once. While Mitski confesses to have not heard the album on vinyl she concedes, “But jazz generally sounds better on vinyl, and right now this is my favourite jazz album.”
The affection for jazz doesn’t stop there either. Mitski also picks out Chet Baker Sings from the titular impresario and Thelonious Monk’s Monk in Tokyo. After proclaiming that “Chet’s soft grainy voice was made for vinyl”, she offers up her most concise opinion on Thelonious Monk. Mitski writes: “I’ve got to be honest, I hate how a lot of live jazz recordings are panned, including this one. I get it; the piano was stage right. But I was born in the 1990s, I need to hear everything in one earbud. Anyway, I love Monk, and I have a soft spot for live jazz recorded in Japan.”
Elsewhere in her list, Mitski picks out Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians which she calls “the best, most tender sex soundtrack in the world.” But she saves her greatest praise for a classical piece from Arnold Schoenberg, titled Verklarte Nacht. She claims, “Strings sound so good on vinyl, in my opinion, and Transfigured Night [Verklarte Nacht] is the best string piece.”
Usually, such favourite record lists rest solely on the trademark inspirational albums, delivered with the hope that, by doing so, they may appear hip or ‘in the know’. Instead, most artists who pick such albums look boring and pallid in comparison. It suits her ethos then that much of Mitski’s choices are obscure and the others are totally in keeping with her unique vision of music. Below, we’ve compiled Mitski’s most essential records on a perfect playlist.
Mitski’s five favourite albums:
- Music for 18 Musicians – Steve Reich
- Ah Um – Charles Mingus
- Chet Baker Sings – Chet Baker
- Monk in Tokyo – Thelonious Monk
- Verklarte Nacht – Arnold Schoenberg