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Mitski - Puberty 2 (Album Review)

Thursday, 23 June 2016 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Photo: Ebru Yildiz

On ‘Puberty 2’, Mitski spends much of her time wrestling with her significance in the grand scheme of things.

For much of the record it’s almost as though the lights are on with no-one home. But quite deliberately so. There’s a sense of detachment to Mitski’s lyrics that isn’t always reflected in her fabulous, often angelic voice. The dreamy production adds to this palpable disconnect, also ensuring a consistent tone on an album that frequently changes direction.

Mitski is not afraid to get seriously heavy, for one thing. The thick garage rock riffs of Fireworks and A Loving Feeling are drenched in feedback and accompanied by loud cymbal splashes, often evoking seminal ‘90s acts like the Pixies. These moments, though, are also often gone in the blink of an eye.

More broadly, Mitski repeatedly sounds like she’s on the brink. But the only point where she seems to tumble over the edge is on the unhinged acoustic track My Body's Made of Crushed Little Stars, where she declares that she “works better on a deadline” and that she’s “going to pick an age when [she’s] going to disappear”.

Even though the pace of the album is relatively slow, there’s a constant sense of unpredictability. That extends to the changes in rhythm and chords, plus a use of instrumentation that feels somewhat unorthodox. The opening track, Happy, for example, catches the listener off guard with a bombastic saxophone progression that adds to the sense of playful irony.

The most consistent element throughout is Mitski’s vivid and versatile vocal performance. While the stylised production tends to conceal her more dramatic moments, she’s clearly got some chops. Her measured technique is particularly impressive on the more reflective cuts, most notably Crack Baby, where she shifts key and jumps an octave in one fell swoop.

Mitski’s not one for showing off, though. If there’s any real criticism to be made of this record it’s that she sometimes seems to rein herself in. She is adept at dynamically craft songs, judging by the extraordinary whirlwind of emotion that’s thrust at the listener on lead single Your Best American Girl, but a sense of self-doubt is part of the album too.

She frequently toys with nihilism, but her words are too detailed and brilliant for her not to be charming and sympathetic as a protagonist. The chaos and struggle she conveys is very human, also drawing on feelings of restriction and alienation stemming from her gender and Asian-American heritage.

‘Puberty 2’, as you might expect from the title, works as classic catharsis but veers away from the blunt and melodramatic. That’s simply not how Mitski makes music. Whether she actually wants to burst out of shell is cause for speculation. In the meantime, this is superb.

Mitski Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue September 20 2016 - DUBLIN Workmans Club
Sat October 01 2016 - BRIGHTON Green Door Store
Sun October 02 2016 - LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Tue October 04 2016 - GLASGOW Stereo
Wed October 05 2016 - MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Thu October 06 2016 - LONDON Tufnell Park Dome

Click here to compare & buy Mitski Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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