Usually if you mention anything from your pubescent years, you face universal cringing at best and total revenge at worst. But Mitski’s latest album, Puberty 2, willingly revisits the emotional turbulence of self-doubt, loneliness and sadness — a cocktail of confusion that never truly leaves us as we age. Jumping easily between plucky punk rock, mellow guitar riffs, bright electronic beats and shimmering dream pop, Puberty 2 is a lifetime’s worth of introspection in a lean 30 minutes.
Though she sings of sad times, Mitski eyes her self pity with razor sharp wit, never devolving entirely into melodrama. In “Happy,” a supposed lover leaves in the morning before she wakes up. Hollow mechanical whirring and quiet vocals swing into boppy electric guitar riffs as she accepts the situation. Wryly, she sings, “I sighed and mumbled to myself / Again I have to clean.”
Her gift for lyrics reaches new heights in “Your Best American Girl,” a sorrowful crooner about coming to terms with her Japanese-American heritage — the only thing standing in the way of a fairytale ending with her soulmate. She sings, “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / But I do, I finally do / You’re an all American boy and guess I couldn’t help try to be your best American girl.” It’s a complex and introspective tug-of-war between assimilation and defiance, one road being easy and showered with benefits and the other being mind-blowingly difficult, but honorable all the same.
Though Puberty 2 speaks of sadness, it isn’t glossy, rose-tinted sadness dolled up like a Lolita poster. In “Once More to See You,” a daydreamy waltz, her voice trembles so gently and hopefully for an unrequited lover that it feels like we must avert our eyes and afford her the dignity of private shame. But in the pain of overhearing also lies the beauty.
The punk-rock angst dials all the way up in “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” a defiant middle finger to the laws of physical mortality. Cavernous vocals thrash above a thick, staticky wall of sound, angrily yelling, “I wanna see the whole world / I don't know how I'm gonna pay rent.”
In a world where people and ideas move on to the next faster than ever, “I Bet on Losing Dogs” is a gravestone to the lonely souls that get left behind. Floating out from shimmering synths and hazy acoustics, Mitski sings, “I bet on losing dogs / I know they're losing and I'll pay for my place / By the ring / Where I'll be looking in their eyes when they're down / I'll be there on their side / I'm losing by their side.”
Listening to Puberty 2, I suddenly feel very small, like I’ve transported back into a warm dark cocoon of blankets on a sad night. The sum of every teenage sorrow returns, clearer than ever, but then pours back out in an exhilarating catharsis. These emotions may be painful, but Mitski’s voice creates an impenetrable force field, circling lovingly around me, a space of utter sanctuary — and, my god, if that isn’t the sweetest gift anyone could give.