While, in theory, puberty allows us to grow into the people we’re meant to be, it’s still a damned awkward and difficult time to have to go through. Consider the initially-terrifying changes morphing our physiques, the voice-cracking embarrassments, and a seemingly-unending surge of hormones clouding rational thought. Think about how clumsy you were–both physically and emotionally–in your teens. For some, puberty is a nostalgic period to recall fondly every once in a while, but one to be glad you’re over with. 25-year-old songwriter Mitski Miyawaki has entered another pupal stage, though, with her Puberty 2 suggesting that our growing pains are unending.
Right off the bat, “Happy” demonstrates how quickly comfort can turn to emptiness. Sounding something like St. Vincent’s art-rock reinterpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” the track pits nervous tick drum machine clicks and melted butter synths against Miyawaki’s uncomfortably earnest confessions (“I told him I’d do anything to have him stay with me”). Ultimately, her limited-time lover ditches her while she’s in the bathroom, leaving her to coldly clean up their afternoon snack of cookies and tea. This realization comes just as the track collapses beneath the weight of scatter shot clankings and a digitally skronked-out sax line. Puberty 2 is full of these crushed moments.
A gloom-soaked bass line bops throughout “Once More to See You,” a song in which Mitski settles for a behind-the-scenes relationship marked with secret “pinky promise kisses” in order to keep reputations intact. The bells-backed “Fireworks” flips the mood a bit, with the artist singing about how her “sadness will fossilize,” but that she says she’ll end up forgetting how to cry just seems like a different emotional problem altogether.
A slow and steady sweetness is steeped into “I Bet On Losing Dogs,” with its luscious backups, water-logged keyboard leads and major chord key change, but the track still dips its toes into sorrow. “Baby, my baby, tell your baby that I’m your baby,” Miyawaki sings convolutedly, eventually conceding she’s made a series of bad choices.
But despite the all-pervasive blue mood Mitski spreads throughout her songs, there’s plenty of spirited, anthemic moments to latch onto with Puberty 2. “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” blasts by via a series fuzz-covered acoustic strums, here framing a narrative involving wanderlust and rent problems. “A Loving Feeling” asserts regretfully that the deep thump you feel in your heart may never be reciprocated, but the song comes packaged in a poppy, Pixies-ish blur that softens the blow. There’s also enough exquisitely squiggling synth work on “Dan the Dancer” to convert sad-sack wallflowers into full-on floor shufflers.
All told, there’s a defeated feel to downtrodden finale “A Burning Hill,” a song that has Miyawaki likening herself to a scorched field. “I’m tired of wanting more,” she sighs, hinting at an unfulfilling relationship full of broken promises. She adds: “I think I’m finally worn.” It’s an interesting note to end on, one that quite literally signifies that Mitski’s Puberty 2 is over. For her heart’s sake, let’s hope those growing pains winding down too.
– review by Gregory Adams