As much as I try to review as many “smaller” releases as I can, many end up getting lost in the shuffle, which is a shame because I like getting turned onto new things. It also did not help that I for the most part I took the summer off due to a full-time job and missed several great albums that I will be covering before the year ends. I especially found myself missing plenty of indie releases that came out to critical acclaim initially before fading out of the spotlight before coming back for year-end lists. This was the case for Mitski and her fourth studio album Puberty 2.
It would be easiest to compare this record to the last album I reviewed Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest. The two records both fall into a subgenre of indie rock that is heavily influenced by indie music from the 90s. The two also have some dark, personal reflections of sadness, with Mitski’s certainly feeling to be coming from a more aged perspective. It actually amazes me how this 26-year-old singer-songwriter was able to create such a damaged image of herself.
Straight from the opening track, I knew I would end up enjoying this album greatly. “Happy” sets up the tone as Mitski describes her happiness leaving her. She compares her feeling of happiness to a guy who comes over for sex, only to leave while Mitski is in the bathroom. Even with a catchy chorus, the pain and longing for happiness to return is felt in every word as Mitski sounds utterly defeated by her emotions.
These feelings seem to stem from failed relationships and a struggle of feeling accepted, a topic of many of these songs. “Dan the Dancer” tells the story of a man who is afraid to open himself to anyone, until he finally met someone he could truly open himself up to. When he finally meets a girl to open up with, and presumably lose his virginity to, she does not seem to understand how special this is to him. The parallels between Dan and Mitski are apparent and it would make sense to assume she is actually singing about herself.
On “Your Best American Girl,” the explosive single from this record, Mitski sings about wanting to become more Americanized, dropping her Japanese culture in favor of trying to relate to her lover. The lyrics are deep and the instrumentation is complete with blasting distorted guitars that sound ready to be played in an arena. This sentiment is continued on “Thursday Girl,” where Mitski is trying to find acceptance, this time in a more physical way, using clever lyrics to illustrate her sexual desires.
This feeds into Mitski’s clear struggle to maintain a strong and meaningful relationship. “I Bet on Losing Dogs” has Mitski reflecting on the relationships she pursues, knowing that none of them will ever amount to something meaningful and will just end in pain. The short “A Loving Feeling,” details a casual relationship, starting out with a carefree mood before quickly heading towards confusion as Mitski seems to not know how to handle the complicated relationship.
This goes into the album’s emotional climax “Crack Baby.” The title is a metaphor Mitski uses to compare her desire to be happy to the pain a crack baby feels. She has forgotten what it feels like to be happy, yet she so desperately wants to feel it again. Mitski’s vocals are artfully restrained here as the stylish, glazed production plays behind her. I really like the lyrics on this track, tackling this subject in a creative way.
Mitski proves here that she is a captivating vocalist, not only in her ability to capture the emotion of her songs, but in her technical singing abilities which rarely are overblown. Only on “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” do her vocals feel wild and even then the song is intentionally high energy and still sounds great.
While I do not love this record as much as I love the aforementioned Teens of Denial, it is a lyrically dense indie rock record that is worthy of the praise it is getting. I do wish there was more here, this album is a fast 31 minute listen, but Mitski is able to pack so much in here it is hard to really complain about it. Fans of indie rock and 90s nostalgia will likely find plenty here to dig into.
Best Tracks: Happy, Dan the Dancer, Your Best American Girl, I Bet on Losing Dogs, My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars, Thursday Girl, Crack Baby
Worst Track: Once More to See You