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Mitski’s “Puberty 2” Expertly Tackles Emptiness, Longing and Belonging

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Twenty-five-year-old Mitski is a musician, songwriter and vocalist based in New York. Above all, she is a storyteller. Born in Japan and growing up a globetrotter of sorts, Mitski’s music tackles feelings of estrangement, not fitting in and the emotions (both positive and negative) that come with that. Her latest album, “Puberty 2,” acts a sequel of sorts to her 2014 “Bury Me At Makeout Creek.” “Puberty 2,” whether purposefully or not, serves to show her growth as an artist and a human being through her nearly-magical lyricism and mastery of sound.

As Mitski Miyawaki’s “Puberty 2” begins, it forces you to wonder “is this the same Mitski material as ‘Bury Me At Makeout Creek?’” And the answer to that is “no.” Artists evolve for good reason, and that’s precisely what Mitski did between her last album in 2014 and “Puberty 2.”

The first track, “Happy,” begins with shuddering percussion and static as Mitski’s morose voice discusses how fleeting happiness is by personifying it in the song. She depicts a story in which she desperately attempts to convince the happiness to stay with her, singing, “I poured him tea and he told me it’ll all be okay / Well, I told him I’d do anything to have him stay with me.”

Mitski describes the emotion as a wayfaring gentleman caller who leaves her in the morning. With lyrics such as, “And when you go, take this heart / I’ll make no more use of it when there’s no more you,” she admits to her dependency on happiness. Following the first chorus, there is an interruption of near-blaring saxophone, adding to the new sound from an artist whose music typically fluctuates between loud, powerful rock and haunting, morose ballads.

Throughout the album, Mitski expertly balances themes of happiness and sadness. The fourth track “Fireworks,” for example, is optimistic without negating the effects of nostalgia and past experiences on everyday life. Mitski sings, “One morning this sadness will fossilize / And I will forget how to cry,” and ends in the sadness that nostalgia brings with the chorus: “One warm summer night / I’ll hear fireworks outside / and I’ll listen to the memories as they cry, cry, cry.”

Once more, Mitski personifies an emotion, this time silence, when she discerns, “I will be married to silence / The gentleman won’t say a word / But you know, oh you know in the quiet he holds / Runs a river that’ll never find home.”

The aforementioned line in “Fireworks,” “Runs a river that’ll never find home,” alludes to Mitski’s upbringing. Being born in Japan and growing up across the globe influences Mitski’s music in a variety of ways. “Puberty 2’s” first single, “Your Best American Girl,” tells of the disparities between couples of different backgrounds. Mitski describes a culturally-discordant relationship, singing, “You’re the sun, you’ve never seen the night / But you hear its song from the morning birds / But I’m not the moon, I’m not even a star,” and “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / But I do, I think I do.” Despite trying her hardest to fit in culturally with her partner, she is unable to, as she makes apparent in the chorus, “You’re an All-American boy / I guess I couldn’t help trying to be your best American girl.”

There’s also the angry, rambunctious “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” which begins by repeating the assertion, “I’m not doing anything” and later questions in the chorus, “Would you kill me in Jerusalem?” Of the tracks on “Puberty 2,” this is one of the shortest, ending after only one minute and 56 seconds of clanging noises and raw, warbling vocals.

The polar opposite to “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” in both sound and length is “Crack Baby.” The penultimate track on the album, “Crack Baby” is the album’s longest song. The nearly five-minute number is smooth, sensual and the lovechild of 90’s experimental rock and FKA twigs. “Crack Baby” compares happiness to cocaine and does so through powerful lyricism that is accompanied by dark beats and harmonies.

As a whole, “Puberty 2” is raw emotion incarnate. Mitski bleeds into the album. The lyrics are so personal, listeners almost feel they are intruding upon the audio form of a diary. The album contains 11 tracks, but it’s a record that’s on the shorter side — roughly 30 minutes long. This is far from a complaint though; the album still stands and feels like a complete work. Maybe those with qualms about the album’s length should, as Mitski says on “A Burning Hill,” the final song on “Puberty 2,” “learn to love the littler things.”

Jahleelah Shaheed, 16, is a teen poet and activist who is passionate about alternative music, art and equality.

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