Release Date: Jun 17, 2016
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Based in Brooklyn but with an unsettled background that called over a dozen countries on multiple continents home before she reached her twenties, Mitski Miyawaki makes her Dead Oceans debut with her fourth album, Puberty 2. Her background is not irrelevant here, as the album reflects her own, very personal -- and intentional or not, her generation's -- crisis of belonging as she recounts stories of navigating young adulthood in the City. A visceral work that shares the immediacy of classic punk and confessional singer/songwriter fare at once, Puberty 2 takes listeners behind closed doors with the kind of no-holds-barred lyrics that are likely to leave a lasting impression.
Much as it’s reviled by its practitioners, the label of what is or isn’t “emo” has always been more of a, hm, dick move to those outside its designation. It’s the ultimate slap in the face to, say, the riot grrrl movement — for the competing testosterone-driven contingent to draw a line in the sand of what constitutes emotional punk itself. The idea that there was a time when the Promise Ring and the Get Up Kids were considered to be the more emotional alternative to anything — much less a ’90s in which Lilith Fair and Kill Rock Stars alike were merely the most prominent platforms for women to finally sing fearlessly about everyday oppression — never added up.
The taxing climbs and tumbling falls between puberty’s ecstatic peaks and hopeless valleys result in some serious emotional motion sickness, leaving you confused and disoriented by the time you’re spat out into adulthood. Mitski Miyawaki’s new album, Puberty 2, is more akin to a vast, brutally lonely desert. Her last record, 2014’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek, was raw to the point of emotional gore.
Though the album's title bills it as a sequel of sorts to puberty, Mitski's Puberty 2 would perhaps be better titled as "puberty infinity." Its explorations of the ways humans love each other, hurt one another and balance soaring happiness with crippling sadness (often brought on by some manifestation of mental illness) suggest the highs and lows of puberty aren't a one time thing felt by teenagers—or even a second thing felt by confused 20-somethings. What Puberty 2 so expertly unearths is the fact that the uncertainty of puberty basically just means you're alive. .
Depression and fits of anxiety have inspired plenty of great music, but there is something else taking shape in Mitski Miyawaki’s tense fourth album, Puberty 2: a detailed chronicling of the day-to-day interior struggle to be happy. The 25-year-old Brooklyn singer-songwriter is engaged in a larger struggle to pin down what, exactly, happiness is—at least for now, at that point in life when true adulthood starts to meet reality. Sometimes Mitski looks for contentedness in simple routine, like jogging or wearing a clean, white button-down.
Regardless of how emotionally bruising singer-songwriter Mitski Miyawaki's music can sometimes be, she isn't without a sense of humor. Her 2014 breakout album Bury Me at Makeout Creek referenced a classic Simpsons quote, the title of her fourth album Puberty 2 could just as easily be the title of a coming-of-age comedy. The comparison is fitting in that it references the awkward transitional phase of youth that often comes with a whole new set of rules, boundaries, and challenges to navigate through.
In 2014 Mitski released her third album of lo-fi punk tales of overwhelming sadness, Bury Me At Makeout Creek. Now signed to Dead Oceans for her fourth album Puberty 2, the 25-year-old is as experimental and fearless as ever, whilst also developing a sort of mainstream, more commercial sound. The stark electronica of opener Happy may be a curveball introduction, but it’s the lyrical content – which appears to be a devastating fairy tale of sorts – that encapsulates her worldview.
There is a specific sound to an artist who’s hit their stride. It can be heard straight away on “Happy”, track one of Mitski’s latest record, Puberty 2. A stuttering saxophone and machine toms puncture the track in happy support of a song that climbs from one brilliant moment to the next. It’s the sound of Mitski’s voice pawing back at the arrangement, steering a half-comatose introduction seamlessly into a pounding chorus.
“Nobody is holding you here; remember that. Keep that in your mind. ”– Edward Albee, At Home at the Zoo In Mitski Miyawski’s 2014 Double Double Whammy release Bury Me At Makeout Creek, themes of violent, terminal velocity love and perpetual childhood insecurity are sketched out in an outlook it bears: the adrenaline-pumping love of bodies falling from balconies and hearts hitting the ground, soundtracked by screaming guitars and self-affirmed, bat-held “I wanna be what my body wants me to be.
A boldly and deeply brave record, Mitski’s new album confronts ugly truths and bleak reality without a second to spare. Mitski Miyawaki has been making emotionally-bare music for years, but ‘Puberty 2’ goes beyond the twisted heroics of last year’s ‘Bury Me At Makeout Creek’ by some distance. And if you can pinpoint Mitski’s step-up from cult favourite to actual phenomenon, ’Your Best American Girl’ packs that moment.
Given this generation’s supposed fondness for oversharing, you’d think albums as open and unflinching as Mitski’s fourth would be ten-a-penny. But in fact it’s quite the opposite, and this New Yorker’s sheer candidness can make you wince: “I told him I’d do anything to have him stay with me,” she sings on the opening track, Happy, before a hollow tale unfolds of being discarded after sex. Bright Eyes-esque confessional folk, riot grrrl and the quiet-loud dynamics of the Pixies are all present, but Mitski updates these reference points with a modernist twist (Crack Baby and Once More to See You have something of St Vincent’s unsettling strangeness).
Puberty’s a time of peak emotions but it’s also one of chronic navel-gazing, making it dangerous territory for musicians. Fortunately, Puberty 2 is the rare breed that evokes all the angst and drama of adolescence but also its sublime passion. Featuring crunchy guitars, squeals of feedback and masterful melodicism, comparisons to Pinkerton are inevitable, but there's more nuance and maturity at work here.
Following the breakout success of 2014's Bury Me At Makeout Creek, 25-year-old Mitski Miyawaki takes a walk on the weird side in her fourth LP. Assisted by producer and instrumentalist Patrick Hyland, she shrugs off indie rock convention from the onset; "Happy" opens the album with braying saxophones, beats craftily fashioned from CD skips and lyrics about a happiness that takes the form of a slovenly lover – or in the music video, a duplicitous one. ("Happiness fucks you," Miyawaki wrote of the song, "It's possible to spend periods of happiness just waiting for [sadness].
On her last album, 2014’s excellent Bury Me At Makeout Creek, Mitski Miyawaki (she drops the last name on stage) perfectly captured the messiness of late adolescence, that chaotic period when suddenly you can do whatever you want, and make some bad choices as a result. The title of her follow-up, Puberty 2, suggests a new but equally painful period of growth, one where the burdens of adulthood suddenly become more than an abstract concept, and wandering home drunk at 3 a.m. is replaced by getting up early to go to work.
As confessional as singer/songwriters; as confrontational as punk. People have brought up St. Vincent in comparison because both are women and both wield guitars (sometimes noisily), but Annie Clark has never been this naked and poseless.
If you would've asked Carl and I that we'd still be writing this feature a few months ago, we would've been surprised. But we just can't help ourselves, seeing as this year has been exceptionally rich in terms of album releases. So how did we fare with our monthly "leftovers" this time around? Well ….
Mitski Miyawaki has become one of indie rock’s most fervently adored singer-songwriters, balancing her incredibly assured voice with startlingly intimate depictions of below-the-surface tumult. On her fourth album she doubles down on craft, creating complex, churning tracks that borrow from all over the pop spectrum — “Your Best American Girl” wrestles with the unsolvable puzzles brought up by romance amid anthemic triumph, while the moody “Crack Baby” briefly calls back to the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” in a way that only makes the song’s desperate search for happiness seem more impossible. Her lyrics reveal a jarring empathy; the slow-burning “I Bet on Losing Dogs,” in which Mitski croons “I’ll be there on their side/ I’m losing by their side” over a swirl of synthesizers and background oohs, makes it explicit, but the brisk “Dan the Dancer,” which places her rich voice among thorny, dissonant guitars, is a gorgeously rendered portrait of sadness lurking behind a brave façade.
Recorded over two weeks in Westchester, New York, with producer Patrick Hyland, Puberty 2 retains the intimacy of Mitski's last full-length, Bury Me At Makeout Creek. But in the two years between records, the "half-Japanese, half-American but not fully either" songwriter has added heft to her sound and complexity to her lyrics. Puberty 2 is full of isolation, anxiety and loss, with the idea at its centre that happiness eventually becomes sadness and despair.
Juddering into life as if broken, Puberty 2 is an exploration through what it really means to be strong. Taking the confusion and dismay we all automatically turn inwards and voicing it with a burgeoning strength, Mitski Miyawaki gives vitality to every emotion that makes us who we are - no matter how deep or dark they get. "I'm not happy or sad," she acknowledges on the atmospheric "Thursday Girl", "just up or down, and always bad." Liberatingly candid, the record breaks free from the self-imposed shackles of composure, introspective lyrics demonstrating just how alright it is to not feel alright.