Brooklyn based singer songwriter Mitski has been active for a while, gaining critical acclaim with her 2014 record Bury Me At Makeout Creek, its blend of sorrowful acoustic numbers and scorching indie rock positioning her alongside the likes of Bully, Teen Suicide and Car Seat Headrest – artists giving new life to scrappy, emotional indie rock with stylistic nods to the 90s. Puberty 2 follows on from that album, but incorporates the sophisticated sparse beauty that characterised her early work. It’s an ambitious, powerful record that looks posed to push her further than before into the public consciousness.
Lead single ‘Your Best American Girl’ best encapsulates the two sides of Mitski’s sound and her confessional, potent lyrics, a tale of interracial dating and coming to accept her origins in the face of discrimination. Delicately strummed verses give way to a crushing chorus with the wall of noise sweetness that My Bloody Valentine is known for – indeed, 90s influences are found throughout the album. Mitski’s vocals, which walk a thin line between delicate and forceful, are indebted to Bjork and Sinead O’Connor. While the quiet/loud dynamics may bring Pixies to mind, her vocals, use of unusual song structures and candid writing style are more reminiscent of fellow New England indie heroes Throwing Muses; ‘Thursday Girl’ and ‘Crack Baby’ make lighter use of guitar, comparable to Mezzanine era Massive Attack and Portishead in their haunting beauty.
Yet there is still the stingy noisy pop of her last album present – ‘My Body’s Made Of Crushed Little Stars’ and ‘A Loving Feeling’ are startling in their sheer rawness. At its core however, Puberty 2 is a modern record. The production is raw yet not overly lo-fi, the use of drum machines is stylistic rather than amateurish, the song writing prowess and diversity on display here pushes this album above most of the Bandcamp sad-bedroom records treading similar ground.
Mitski’s lyrics are brutally honest, taking on subjects like the struggle of being in love, being left after a hook-up and being torn between your dreams and the crushing weight of your present situation. The keen attention to small details heightens the personal nature of them yet helps the listener to fully picture the scenarios occurring. They are delivered in a variety of ways, from the softly sung “you’re the sun, you’ve never seen the night” of ‘Your Best American Girl’ to the almost screamed “I dunno how I’m gonna pay my rent, I wanna see the whole world”. The album is a sad one, yet never morose – more an examination of adolescence, coming of age and mistakes rather than the listener being thrown full force into a pit of despair.
Puberty 2 is a diverse, powerful addition to the indie rock canon, fitting well alongside the likes of Bully, Courtney Barnett and St Vincent yet with its own highly distinct identity. If you’re looking for an album with a less derivative 90s influence than many albums of the same ilk out now, or just something tastefully sad with a bit of distorted guitar, this is for you. While Mitski has been around for a while, honing her craft over the course of four full lengths, hopefully now more people will start to pay attention.