words: Jordan Gorsuch
Mitski Miyawaki perfectly captured the messiness of being a twentysomething on 2014's Bury Me At Makeout Creek, an emotional, chaotic album that detailed the scary realization that the "real world" is about to smack you in the face so it might be time to live a little dangerously. Puberty 2 is the aftermath, the afterparty that finds everyone feeling a little shitty and a little worried. The real world is here and now comes the adjustment. Finding happiness in waking up for a 9-to-5 can sound daunting, but Mitski saddles up for the challenge. While the answers feel realistically inadequate, the album itself is anything but.
"Happy" kicks off the album with a droning electro-drum beat and spectral, distant key strokes as Mitski details an encounter with the personification of happiness - a stand-in for a romantic encounter - that comes and goes, leaving her to pick up "all the cookie wrappers and empty cups of tea" used in aiding in his sexual gain and her temporary happiness. Happiness is fleeting, and she is left cleaning all evidence of its presence.
"Once More To See You" is reminiscent of the slow, woeful synth pop of the 60s with strong vocal melodies and deep bass lines that collide to bring about heartbreak. "If you would let me give you pinky promise kisses, then I wouldn't have to scream your name atop of every roof in the city of my heart."
"One morning this sadness will fossilize and I will forget how to cry" is the beginning line of Mitski's beautiful ode to modern-day cynicism titled "Fireworks." The simple, folksy guitar chords overlay the tinny drumbeat as the song swells around its emotional chorus. Personification pops up again in the form of a gentleman named Silence. Mitski describes shis silence as "a river that will never find home." No one is finding their happiness.
"Your Best American Girl" features the most fearless chorus that Mitski has ever penned. Her signature distorted guitar roars underneath a sugary vocal melody and the quiet/loud dynamics transport listeners to a time in the 90s when geeky boys in glasses were crafting the most anthemic heartbreakers around - well, not anymore. Mitski utilizes her complicated feelings of being an "outsider" to crystalize her insecurities into a fiery contender for song of the year.
"A Loving Feeling" sounds like a deep-cut from her previous album Bury Me At Makeout Creek. It buzzes and speeds through Mitski's blunt sentiment: "What do you do with a loving feeling if the loving feeling makes you all alone?" The cynicism runs deep as she even takes cheap shots at herself, a sweet piano melody underscoring her voice.
On "My Body's Made of Crushed Little Stars" Mitski gets her own "Holland, 1945" moment as she howls over blistering no-fi guitar chords. She grapples over her wanderlust and notes the daily anxiety that takes shape with paying rent and working under deadlines. It's a poignant protest in-between two of the more somber cuts on the album.
Puberty 2 feels like an intense field journal in song-form that is attempting to locate happiness and keep it. In addition, the album throws us deeply empathetic songs like "I Bet on Losing Dogs," and "Crack Baby" that give stunning character to subjects that most writers would never dream of undertaking. Mitski channels Annie Clark as she shares that she'll be on their side - she'll be losing by their side. She identifies with the downtrodden, and she sounds utterly sincere when she sings about these subjects.
This is simply one of the best albums of the year. Mitski almost sounds defeated between the pained chord changes featured on the closing track "A Burning Hill." Mitski dons the white button-down from the album cover as she seeks to project a happier, purer version of herself to the world. She seems to doubt her final resolution: "I'll love the littler things, I'll love some littler things." Well, I have no doubt, this is Mitski's best album to date.