Indie rock needed a jolt of emotion, and 25-year-old Mitski was there with a bass guitar in her hand and a knife in her side.
Whereas “Puberty 1” refers to your voice getting deeper and “growing hair in places you never even knew existed” (the exact words my 6th grade sex ed video used), I interpret “Puberty 2” as the parts of growing up that are invisible, like depression, anxiety, heartbreak, and failing expectations. Puberty 2 is beautiful for Mitski’s honesty and openness in her struggle with these invisible forces that are all too real and oft neglected in our society.
As Mitski sings on the opening track, “Happy”, we welcome happiness with open arms but find that it’s fleeting, as happiness escapes and you’re left to deal with the remains. On “Fireworks” she sings, “One morning this sadness will fossilize/And I will forget how to cry/I’ll keep going to work and he won’t see a change/Save perhaps a slight gray in my eye.” The song calmly accepts that when you’re sad so often, it is eventually internalized – just as your internalized musical sense thinks the verse will resolve on the one and everything will be okay, it ends ominously on a dark note. Frontrunner for song of the year, “Your Best American Girl”, confronts identity in a genre overloaded with white males and in a world confused about the acceptance of those with different views and backgrounds. “A Burning Hill” is the perfect end to the record. Mitski puts on her clean, white button-down, and begins her day anew. Even if you’re a “forest fire” inside from heartbreak, life goes on. I could go on and on about the lyricism on the record, but every single track is personal and poignant in its conflict with emotion.
In terms of musicality, Mitski evolves from the grungy lo-fi of 2014’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek and incorporates swelling orchestral synths alongside her signature fuzzy power chords. Some of the tracks call back to that wonderfully simple lo-fi, especially “My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars” and “A Loving Feeling”. There are also shades of St. Vincent throughout the record in her unsettlingly graceful melodies and the production. “Crack Baby” calls to “Prince Johnny” – both serenading the self-destructive in pursuit of affection with ghostly synths.
Even more beautiful is how Mitski, through her self-expression, has encouraged many others from all walks of life to confront their own depression. Her Twitter faces mental health issues with heavy irony and sarcasm, but through it, she has reached so many young people just like her going through the same things but afraid to say anything about it. In this way, Mitski has become a voice for the abandoned: people who were afraid to come out of the shadows because of their sadness and now reach out to Mitski and her music for comfort.
“Happiness is up, sadness is down, but one’s almost more destructive than the other.” The binary that our society has created between these two powerful emotions, valuing happiness (even if it’s artificial) and criticizing those experiencing sadness, is so dangerous. The stigma in our society is that being sad is a choice and a weakness. But as she says in her interview with Brooklyn Magazine, “What I think everyone is looking for right now is to be able to be not good or not okay, and not have that devalue them in any way.” What Mitski has taught me with Puberty 2 is that to be not okay is okay.
Sadness is invigorating.
Indie Rock | Dead Oceans