Happiness is an elusive emotion. The ebb and flow of its “here one moment, gone the next” nature makes it fickle, and one of the most difficult to pinpoint. On Puberty 2, singer-songwriter Mitski Miyawaki tackles themes common to her twenty-something age group, but does so with a refreshing amount of honesty and awareness.
“Happiness fucks you,” Mitski said in the press release for Puberty 2. “Happiness is up, sadness is down, but one’s almost more destructive than the other. When you realize you can’t have one without the other, it’s possible to spend periods of happiness just waiting for that other wave.”
On the album’s opener (fittingly titled “Happy”), Mitski describes inviting a character named Happy over for cookies and tea, only for him to slip out the door unannounced, leaving her to clean up the mess. It’s a simple and cheeky metaphor, but one that resonates with great emotional depth.
“Oh, if you’re going, take the train / So I can hear it rumble, one last time,” she beckons during the chorus. “And when you go, take this heart / I'll make no more use of it when there's no more you.”
On Puberty 2, Mitski doesn’t venture too far from her guitar-focused, indie rock sound, but the album is far from simple. Layers of swirling orchestration complement her weary voice with a nuance that gifts the listener with the luxury of finding something new with each listen. Her strength is her ability to draw you in with the distorted familiarity of classic ‘90s post-grunge, but it’s her ability to exist outside of any particular sound or genre that truly sets Puberty 2 apart.
Mitski adeptly tackles the album’s main themes: the struggle to find (or even define) happiness, and the intersection of entering adulthood with a lack of true personal identity. On the world-weary album closer “A Burning Hill,” we find Mitski at her most eloquent, poetic, and poignant. Her exhausted vocal lines float above ethereal, acoustic instrumentation, singing, “I am a forest fire / And I am the fire and I am the forest / And I am a witness watching it / I stand in a valley watching it / And you are not there at all.”
What is most impressive about Puberty 2 is not only do we find an artist establishing herself as one of the most intriguing voices in indie rock, but we find a singer who is finding herself as an artist right in front of our eyes. At just 25 years old (and with four full-length albums already under her belt), she boasts an emotional awareness beyond her years.
by Trevor Paxton
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