[Dead Ocean; 2016]
When we finally reach adulthood, all of the pains of puberty are supposedly left behind for a more measured and mature livelihood. We all know this myth is far from true. In fact, often those feelings of insecurity and fear are heightened with age, all of us bumbling around like big dumb teenagers trying to find our way in the uncertain future. Mitski explores this perpetual adolescence on Puberty 2, an album that exposes the endless battle to find happiness in the mundanity of adult life.
The album title is fitting for Mitski’s fourth album, an effort that melds the sophistication of Lush and the intensity of Meet Me at Makeout Creek, resulting in a her most compelling album yet, filled with unexpected sounds and ornately assembled song structures. It’s surprising that Mitski was born in 1990 considering how many early 90s bands she draws sounds from on Puberty 2. The outro to “Your Best American Girl” is classic blue era Weezer; “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” is PJ Harvey circa 1992; and “A Loving Feeling” sounds like a jangly Juliana Hatfield pop song. However, Mitski’s biggest influence has to be Annie Clark with her off-kilter arrangements, left-turn lyrics, and her smooth alto croon that could easily be mistaken for St. Vincent.
“Your Best American Girl”:
Mitski’s lyrical prowess continues to thrive on Puberty 2, an album that tells of small victories trying to counter-balance heartbreaking lows, and there are plenty of them. On “Fireworks” she describes with pinpoint accuracy the feelings of depression with the opening lines of “One morning this sadness will fossilize,/ and I will forget how to cry.” “Your Best American Girl” explores the struggle to fit the mold that a partner imagines you being with the powerful chorus of “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me/ but I do, I think I do/ and you’re an all-American boy/ I guess I couldn’t help trying to be your best American girl.” And on “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” she describes the perpetual boredom of working a nine to five, singing in a strained voice, “I work better under a deadline/ I pick an age when I’m gonna disappear/ until them I can try again.”
“My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars”:
Within every devastating track, there are moments of brief glimmer, whether it be the moment of climax with a casual sex partner on “Happy”, relishing a failing relationship on “I Bet On Losing Dogs”, or on “A Burning Hill” when she waves the white flag with the concession “I’m tired of wanting more,/ I think I’m finally worn/…I’ll love some littler things”. It’s on this final track that all of her pain culminates in a metaphorical forest fire, but instead of trying put it out, she basks in the glow of the embers, a perfect finish to an album that finds beauty amidst an internal inferno.