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.
Going to work comes up several times in the pointed lyrics of this album, as does the desire to numb one’s emotions. (“Fireworks” in particular is set to replace Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier” as the emotional detachment anthem of the 21st century.) “Happiness fucks you,” Mitski says in a press release announcing the album, and the anxiety of waiting for the other shoe to drop is reflected in the jittery drum machines that recur throughout. She’s not dead yet, though, and her instrumentation brings urgency and emotional depth to songs like opener “Happy,” where that nervous drum machine temporarily gives way to blasts of saxophone and a rousing chorus in the aftermath of a hookup, only to return after she surveys her messy apartment, alone, and disappointment sets in. (Speaking of urgency, anyone who’s ever suffered an intense bout of anxiety will recognize that feeling in “My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars.”)
This same technique is used to ironic effect on lead single “Your Best American Girl,” a powerful assertion of cultural identity and self-acceptance that explodes into crashing waves of guitars reminiscent of Pixies’ masterful manipulation of tension and release:
That song begins an absolutely dynamite run of narcotic balladry and indie-rock scuzz that lasts right up until “A Loving Feeling.” Penultimate song “Crack Baby,” however, isn’t as dynamic as the album’s highlights, a trait that’s enhanced by its nearly five-minute running time. As a result, album closer “A Burning Hill” is slightly diminished in its impact, even as Mitski restates the album’s theme, singing, “I’ll go to work and I’ll go to sleep and I’ll love the littler things.”
These are minor quibbles, though, and even Puberty 2’s lulls have a new sense of clarity thanks to the cleaner—although far from slick—production. Producer Patrick Hyland foregrounds Mitski’s voice, letting it soar above the melee of her punk-rock numbers and giving it room to move around in the negative space of a ballad. As a result, Puberty 2 exposes new dimensions to Mitski’s voice, revealing its true richness and range. Mitski is an exceptionally keen observer of the human condition, and Puberty 2 marks a triumphant new step in her evolution.