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Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is The Wonderful World Of Nature, the solo debut from Totally Mild’s Elizabeth.
In 2018, Elizabeth Mitchell, frontwoman of Totally Mild, released Her, the band’s superlative sophomore album that wrestled with giving up your exploring, wild 20s in exchange for a life of calm domesticity and marriage. There were ragged edges to the picture of bliss Mitchell presented on Her — the first line of “Today Tonight” is “Get it right, on the outside, and you’ll win” — but nothing can prepare you for the raw, open wounds of The Wonderful World Of Nature, her solo debut as Elizabeth. It’s a “breakup album,” but not in an “Oh no, I got dumped!” Friends episode kind of way. The 11 songs on Wonderful World are filled with recriminations, fresh hurt, screaming fights in the street, and trying to process the trauma of a relationship undone.
The Wonderful World Of Nature plays like a 11-stage gauntlet of post-breakup emotional grief; the path to moving on isn’t a straight line and might never end. Song-to-song, and often verse to verse, the winding line of grief makes its presence felt. “If not with you, then with who?” Elizabeth nearly howls on “Beautiful Baby,” the gently rocking first track, which gives way to “Parties,” a song about how distracting yourself with partying leads you to wondering if your ex is out doing the same, which, in turn, makes you miss them more. “Death Toll” is a slow march about the ways a break-up can leave you devastated, but also finds Elizabeth lamenting, “I will never be the same happy” after saying “It’s over baby, there’s nothing more to say.” The next track, “I Want You,” has Elizabeth softly singing over a piano, “You don’t treat me nicely, and I’m scared I’m gonna stay,” capturing layers of self-loathing, lust, and regret in a single line. The Wonderful World isn’t a bible for how to get over a breakup, but it feels more honest than breakup albums usually are; it’s never just a “fuck you” and it’s never just an “I wish we were still together.” When two people collide, they break up in unpredictable, awful, restorative ways.
The production on The Wonderful World is handled by John Castle, who’s helmed records for Jack River, Hatchie, and more. The instrumentation goes from ’80s indie rock (“Meander”), to haunting piano ballads (“I Want You” and “Imagining The Changes”), to wide-open, guitar-led thunderstorms (“Take Me Back”). All modes fit Elizabeth’s clarion bell vocals, so clear and delicate they could be made Fabergé, making The Wonderful World Of Nature a record that will hit you in your heart and your bones, if you let it.
Andrew Winistorfer is Senior Director of Music and Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard, The Story of Willie Nelson, Miles Davis: The Electric Years and The Story of Waylon Jennings. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.