PUBERTY 2 by Mitski
Genre: Indie Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Happy,” “Once More To See You,” “Fireworks,” “Your Best American Girl,” “Thursday Girl,” “Crack Baby”
Opening someone else’s diary is like watching a car crash. You know it’s horrible to do, but you can’t look away; even so, it arouses your inner Peeping Tom, but not without feeling guilt for selfishly entertaining your own curiosity. Nonetheless, New York-based indie rocker Mitski grants us amnesty for cracking open the journal called PUBERTY 2 — in fact, she slides the spoken password (remember, for those electronic Mattel-brand kids’ diaries?) written on a sticky note across the table, and into the e-journal you growl, “Happiness fucks.” Access granted.
To the Leibnizian listener, one might merely absorb the catchiness of Mitski’s hooks and choruses, or the sweet intonation of her delicate alto voice. However, it takes the panglossian pessimist to truly digest the gritty meat which comprises PUBERTY 2: happiness (noun) fucks (verb). And not in the studious, 60-piece orchestra kind of way that Mitski’s sophomore album projects, but more like a studio-polished version of 2014’s messily curated BURY ME AT MAKEOUT CREEK.
In her fourth album, Mitski has refined her relationship with sonic production. In some songs, she emits veteran status when it comes to the crisp knocks of a drum machine punching behind her throaty, pop-punk electric guitar outbursts. Tracks like “Dan The Dancer,” “My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars,” and “A Loving Feeling” sound like a professional grade homage to Joyce Manor, which was characteristic of her last album. But what makes PUBERTY 2 the fermented maturation of its preceding work is the space in which Mitski has carved for quieted, metrical lamentation, ruminative vocals, and romantically melancholic synthesizers.
Although, this is not to erase unforeseen details like the guzzling, Bob Seger-ish saxophone solo on “Happy,” the delicate 80s slowdance-style harmonies on “Once More To See You,” or the dead bells on “Fireworks” which crow as she humbly accepts the slow-trickle bleeding she has suppressed for so long. The image of Deb’s sleeves from Napoleon Dynamite beneath the reflective glow of foil streamers comes to mind during the ballads “Thursday Girl” and “Crack Baby,” as if a modern-day, half-Japanese emo girl was in the corner of the school gym lusting to have instead stayed home studying her crush’s astrological birth chart. But her signature ruffian touch is still found in the brewing, electric guitar angst of “Your Best American Girl,” as she pouts, “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me.”
Unquestionably, the hallmark of PUBERTY 2 is Mitski’s lyrical prose, which is simultaneously metaphorical, personal, and evocative, without being pretentiously ambiguous, melodramatic, or hackneyed. Altogether she sings emotionally and poignantly about the relationship between isolation and love, recognizing that all instances of delirious happiness cannot be without the heavy counterbalance of paralyzing sadness. At some points she is begging for her heart to be taken with the one who left her, justifying, “I’ll make no more use of it when there’s no more you” (“Happy”), yet at other moments of puppy-eyed hypnotism, she’s willing to take the brunt of the blood sport. In such instances, she sings, “I bet on losing dogs / I know they’re losing and I’ll pay for my place / By the ring / Where I’ll be looking in their eyes when they’re down” (“I Bet On Losing Dogs”).
PUBERTY 2 is the published diary that leaves you less uncomfortable than you would be otherwise because it is filled with effortless metaphor, wistful yet emboldened vocals, and a congruence between buzzing electric guitar and gentle acoustic plucking. Mitski has been through this rodeo for so long, she has had to look the bull in the eye and admit the objective fact that life fucks us all, and it cannot be so without the fleeting moments of elation which fool us otherwise. She has given into the illusion of joy, and accepts the consequences with poise in a clean “white button-down” as she watches herself go up in flames from her own naïveté. At once, she was a self-declared “tall child.” But Mitski is a full grown woman now, and she knows better than to choose what can be said with thrashing and sputtering over graceful stoicism when it comes to the soul-sucking realities of life, love, and pain.