Puberty 2 is one of the more baldly weird albums of 2016.
Mitski’s latest record is not for the faint of heart. It begins with a come/cum double entendre delivered with such innocence and lack of irony that thinking of both meanings is jarring for a listener. Mitski’s candor and left-field lyricism are two of her signature qualities, and they’re balanced by complex, diverse instrumentation throughout Puberty 2.
The opener is fittingly titled “Happy,” and happiness is clearly one of the central premises of Puberty 2. Mitski has discussed her own personal beliefs on happiness frequently while promoting the record; she’s clearly concerned with the emotional impact of actions and thoughts, as well as whether happiness is a state that can ever be sustainably achieved. Tracks like “Crack Baby” and “A Loving Feeling” deal with topics like reconciling addiction and obsession and the highs and lows of casual dating, respectively.
“I’m obsessed with trying to not only be happy but maintain happiness, but my definition of happiness is skewed more towards ecstasy rather than contentment. Ecstasy can’t last forever, so there’s the inevitable comedown from that,” Mitski told NPR.
Puberty 2 fits into the nebulous ‘indie’ genre, but it does so while exploring every nook and cranny associated with the term. Here drum machines, stadium guitars, retro synths and split-second samples all exist on an equal playing field.
“Your Best American Girl” remains one of the year’s powerhouse songs, a tidal wave of yearning and eventual self-acceptance punctuated with screeching guitars and a final chorus that is resonant enough to leave listeners floored.
“Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me/ But I do, I finally do/ And you’re an All-American boy/ I guess I couldn’t help trying to be the best American Girl,” Mitski sings wearily, subtly shifting the lyrics from earlier hooks to highlight a hard-won feeling of tenuous confidence.
“My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” is smart and brash, an internal monologue that highlights the stark divide between our aspirations and reality. The track’s instrumentation is simply a closed fist of guitar, strummed like an acoustic but smothered in White Lung-level distortion. Lyrically, happiness here is presented in binary form, it is simply the opposite of the present situation.
“Once More to See You” is slower and more somber, a frank conversation about a clandestine relationship with a distant lover. Mitski is left craving attention and promising to blow their cover in grandiose fashion.
“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,” she threatens in a haunting falsetto.
Puberty 2 is one of the more baldly weird albums of 2016, but it has plenty of moments of universal emotion. Mitski’s eclectic nature and unorthodox style may be a turn-off for some, but it grows more relatable and endearing as it runs, and eventually you may even find yourself looking at happiness from her point of view, a testament to a truly gifted musician.