Reviewed by: Ziggy Merritt
After an artist’s promising debut there’s a sense of anxiety experienced by both fans and critics alike as to what sort of follow-up is in store and whether or not it can surmount the peak set in place by their previous success. Just 25 years old, Mitski Miyawaki, known professionally as Mitski, has reached album #4 with her latest titled, Puberty 2. But on the heels of the acclaimed Bury Me At Makeout Creek released back in 2014, there’s no indication that a peak for the intrepid musician is anywhere in sight.
As with the best parts of the increasingly vague soup of indie, it’s a fool’s errand to try and pin down an apt classification for Puberty 2 especially with an album and an artist insistent on not being boxed in by one singular sound. Tracks in the vein of the visceral, “Dan the Dancer” or “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” pick up on the distortion and looping feedback prevalent in noise punk albeit with a bleak, acoustic edge. Others such as “Thursday Girl” side more with the post-punk, ethereal wave sound cultivated in a more contemporary sense by Beach House and Warpaint. Mitski’s latest appears to pick upon on some of these spheres of influence, yet incorporates them into an album as deeply personal and depressive as it is engrossing.
Nuances in her vocals, perhaps more clearly identified in her understated vibrato, gives direction and a growing sense of anticipation into each successive track whether soaring through a ballad or hurling out barks of intensity. Puberty 2 requires more than a casual listen to uncover the deluge of emotion, notably frustration, embedded in its labyrinth of textures. Minimal electronic flourishes, varying tempos, and the sweeping delivery of the lyrics themselves give a definite sense of physicality to an album that can be viewed very much as a catharsis.
Standouts like “Your Best American Girl” reveal what it’s like to be caught between perspectives of alienation and assimilation lending again to the common theme of frustration. Here Mitski relates a relationship hollowed out and given distance by her own heritage as a Japanese-American trying to adapt to cultural norms and expectations before eventually coming to terms with her identity. “But, big spoon, you have so much to do/And I have nothing ahead of me/You’re the sun, you’ve never seen the night” she sings at first, wrapping things in more careful poetics before confronting things head-on in the chorus: “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me/But I do, I finally do/And you’re an All-American boy/I guess I couldn’t help trying to be the best American girl.”
Other notable tracks such as “Fireworks” give form to boredom and complacency that have their origin in indecision and aching depression. “One morning this sadness will fossilize/And I will forget how to cry/I’ll keep going to work and he won’t see a change/Save perhaps a slight gray in my eye” she croons to a tune that has its roots in nostalgia, something that in a more literal sense means confronting memories that long ago gave some sense of comfort but now in the present feel just the opposite. With Puberty 2 Mitski crystallizes internal pain into something digestible yet nuanced. In keeping with the title, the album expresses emotional fluctuations triggered by growth, of finding a purpose and place in the world that may not be the most comfortable but livable all the same.