Mitski and the Exploding “Geyser”

Mitski’s new song, “Geyser,” took a listen or two to click for me. I think that’s because it falls under my favorite category of the New York-based singer-songwriter’s oeuvre: slow-burn long-builds that absolutely explode by the end (“Your Best American Girl,” “Texas Reznikoff,” “Carry Me Out“). Often the first time I hear one of these songs, I’m mostly stunned and jarred by the shift. And I get it – for a lot of people, that twist is what it’s really about, and upon relistening, a song like that can lose a bit of its magic. But I think these songs benefit from multiple listens. The calm, pretty beginnings are recontextualized, shown to be hiding a raging undercurrent.

In “Geyser,” Mitski’s own metaphor is of a sudden, violent burst of water: “I’m a geyser, hear it bubbling from below.” It’s a perfect representation of this type of Mitski song. At first they appear calm, until you can begin to hear the bubbling. And then, in dramatic fashion, they explode into their final iterations, a huge rock and roll geyser. “Your Best American Girl” builds until stutter-stepping drums give way to the power chords of a lifetime. The quietly washing cymbals of “Carry Me Out” belie an ominous threat, one that comes true in spades by the song’s dramatic final section.

“Geyser” is both a terrific installment in this ongoing series and a growth for Mitski’s sound. Flashes of noise in the song’s beginning hint at the underlying energy, but when the song shifts from a haunting minor key into a warm major key, that’s when I know we’re in for a classic Mitski tune. The instrumentation on display here is fresh, too, with organ, synths, MIDI strings, and piano, all before we’re grounded by the addition of tambourine and drums. And what kind of Mitski banger would it be without some god damned electric guitar to blow us away by the song’s end.

The music video for “Geyser,” directed by Zia Anger (who also directed the video for “Your Best American Girl”), really is a perfect, abstract representation of the song itself. It’s a new direction for Mitski’s music videos, less cinematically referential than the video for “Happy” (directed by Maegan Houang, full of references to Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love) and less straightforward than Anger’s own “Your Best American Girl” video.

In a single take, Mitski sings her song while wandering the beach. Just as the guitar crunches into the mix at 1:19, she breaks into a run. Her movements escalate exactly with the song’s, as she drops to the ground and rolls, before desperately digging in the sand with her hands until the final chord, when her head hits the ground.

There’s really one right way to listen to these roller coaster-style Mitski songs, and that’s as loud as humanly possible. The harder it hits, the more viscerally you feel that switch, the more you can really get what the song is trying to do. Once the geyser explodes, you just let it wash over you, syncopated triplets cascading down the scale until landing at the last electric chord.

Mitski’s upcoming album Be the Cowboy is scheduled for release on August 17th.

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