With her fourth full-length LP, Mitski pens a coming of age, again. Review by ALI SCHNABEL.
Since the release of her 2012 debut Lush, NYC-based Mitski Miyawaki has been continually praised for her passionate rawness, for possessing an overblown but delicately balanced sense of ‘emotional gore’. While all three previous albums are masterful from an instrumental perspective – the first two were recorded with a full orchestra – there’s a sense that Miyawaki’s true form was being somewhat held back by musical clutter. In Puberty 2, instrumentals are stripped back to a basic, raw and often distorted form to force the listener to reckon with Miyawaki’s brilliant, devastating lyrics and her haunting voice – and oh boy, is it good.
Opening track ‘Happy’ is a perfect example: a simple, obsessive bass kick and intermittent saxophone comingle with Miyawaki’s voice to create a sense of the up-down emotional climate that typifies the album. In Puberty 2, Miyawaki’s voice and her lyrics are brought to the forefront. Lead single Your Best American Girl features simple, deep chords – Miyawaki’s slow-then-abrupt climb to the chorus pays off with a throttling of distortion and sadness that’s poetic in its simplicity. The song speaks to the sense of isolation and difficulties in belonging that plagues Miyawaki, Japanese born, living in dozens of countries growing up before settling in New York: “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me…and you’re an all-American boy/I guess I couldn’t help try to be your best American girl”.
In ‘A Loving Feeling’, Miyawaki captures the frustration of a complicated relationship with a sense of irony, and self-deprecation: “making love to other people/telling each other it’s all good” – while fast-paced chords harken to a sense of self-frustration. Miyawaki is able to capture all of this in only a minute and a half, and it feels like a microcosm for the album – short, bittersweet, punchy.
Miyawaki seems to be channels Doolittle-era Pixies, overtones that perfectly nail the loud-quiet current of the album (‘Dan the Dancer’ is a great example of the post-grunge), while highlighting the breaks and emotional falters in Miyawaki’s. While Puberty 2 is devastating and brutally emotive (from ‘Fireworks’, “One morning this sadness will fossilise and I will forget how to cry”) the record manages to keep away from melodrama. Where in previous albums, Miyawaki seemed to have been rallying against emotion, and her songs were tinged with a sense of angst, Puberty 2 represents an emotional growth spurt for Miyawaki, who now sings of acceptance, of melancholy, feelings of isolation, and of lost endeavours in love. Puberty 2 captures the sense of frustration, resignation and self-awareness that can only come from years of grappling with emotional demons: now, she holds her vulnerability with confidence, in anthemic and improbably striking songs, for all to see.