by Emma Shepard (@hugejourneyfan)
Mitski's 2014 release, Bury Me At Makeout Creek, was easily my favorite release of the year. I was simultaneously excited and unsure what to expect when I heard she was releasing a new album in 2016. I trusted that it would be incredible — there is no lull in her discography — but felt that Bury Me would be hard to follow. She had created her magnum opus and, while I was ready for a new release, I didn't expect Puberty 2 to be such a powerhouse. I felt the same love I had for Bury Me… and I felt that love on fire. Mitski has somehow outdone herself.
The album opens up with "Happy," which showcases a poppier Mitski than we’re used to. “Happy” captures heartbreak in a relatable and naive way, as if happy walked out of the door hand-in-hand with an ex-lover, as they exited your apartment for the final time. Mitski sings: "If you're going take the moon/ I'll make no more use of it when there's no more you,” combining light, fleeting feelings of adolescence, and dark hues of dread. The percussion and horns pump the song full of energy. It's a drive-around-with-the-windows-down song; it is strawberry ice cream in the sun, before the cloudy and sobering next track.
"Dan The Dancer" opens with a grungy guitar riff while the vocals sit lower in the mix. It turns the album around, and takes Puberty 2 in a moodier direction while still incorporating nostalgic pop elements. The keyboard line is light-hearted and melodic, and wobbly synth tones scream over fuzzy guitars. Mitski does a brilliant job combining harsh and calm; her songs often alternate between chaos and a devastating softness, like a sour candy that turns sweet, then sour, then sweet again.
"Your Best American Girl," the first single off of Puberty 2, falls in the middle of the album. I vividly remember hearing it for the first time; I remember where I was, what I was looking at, and what the air tasted like because the listening experience was so intense. It's an emotional trip — an intensely personal account of falling in love, acceptance, childhood, and family. Mitski's forte is writing lyrics that totally destroy one’s life in a beautiful and poetic way. I feel the wind get knocked out of me each time the music winds down and she breaks through the silence, singing "you're the one/ you're all I've ever wanted/ I think I'll regret this."
Although it falls short of the two minute mark, "My Body's Made of Crushed Little Stars,” packs a punch. It’s lo-fi, dirtier, angrier, and comes from a place of uncertainty. "I don't know how I'm gonna pay rent/ I wanna see the whole world" she yells over loud, distorted guitar. The album winds down from this chaotic high. "Crack Baby," the second to last track, is slow and dreamy. It reaches a Portishead level of smooth and sexy. The first time I listened to the album, this track was the only one I didn't instantly fall in love with, as its slow-burn effect takes time to settle in. It has grown on me dramatically, and has become one of my favorites on the album. “Crack Baby” incorporates dream pop and R&B elements, pairing falsetto vocals and key changes alongside drum machine beats and a chorus of subtle "oohs" and "ahs." It is perhaps the bleakest track lyrically, juxtaposing a downward spiral into addiction and a search for happiness or perhaps simplicity. Indeed, the search for happiness seems to be a theme for the entire album — sometimes it’s close enough to taste, sometimes she catches it for a moment like a butterfly in a net. Yet no matter what, it seems to get the hell outta dodge.
Fading out on a quiet note, the album closes and induces catharsis. In a half hour, the listener has felt about everything one is capable of feeling. Mitski creates an emotional landscape in a mature but approachable form. The lyrics are expertly written, weaving complex dark feelings of hopelessness, with an incredibly nuanced lightness. You want to yell out in recognition.