A mild panic rose a couple years ago, when Mitski announced she was withdrawing from the music-biz grind for an indefinite period of time. She had to take to social media to remind her devotees that “indefinite” is foremost a synonym for “unspecified.” Even in that clarification, she seemed worn out by the elevated stature and deeply motivated new few base that sprung from her exceptional album Be the Cowboy. Every casual pronouncement was parsed in a desperate hunt for deeper meaning and forecasting of intent. It must have seemed to her that she was spending as much time clarifying and reassuring as she was creating.
“Working for the Knife,” Mitski’s new single, addresses the dilemma she’s in. The lyrics express a longing for the blissed-out experience of creation (“I cry at the start of every movie/ I guess ’cause I wish I was making things too”) and an acknowledgement that, at a certain level of notoriety, the work of an artist becomes a grind, just another job beset with unwelcome demands (“I start the day high and it ends so low/ ‘Cause I’m working for the knife”). Musically, the track is an extension of the layered sounds on Be the Cowboy. It’s no rehash, though. Mitski finds new nuances within her aesthetic. She has an incredible talent for spinning conflicting emotions into rapturous modern pop.