Mitski: Puberty 2

Scott Wallace
14th Jun 2016

Rock music's for outsiders. That's the tale that's been spun for decades, but often it seems as if that outsider perspective has been lost. Mitski Miyawaki is a Japanese-American woman of mixed race who had many homes across the world throughout her childhood, by her own admission inhabiting liminal spaces of identity and belonging. On her fourth album Puberty 2, her perspective as an outsider adds new and exciting disruptions to the rock template that are at once observational and confrontational.

The first thing heard on the record is a mindlessly thumping drum machine. "Happy" finds Mitski's voice quivering like sour milk as she speaks of fleeting happiness with a man who swiftly departs. Bleating horns and swells of ghostly keyboards cap off what is a gloriously strange take on rock music, with uncertainty and self-effacing sentiment standing in for bravado.

Sometimes there is a fascinating and intentional disconnect between Mitski's gentle alto and the firm musical backdrop to which it is attached. "Dan the Dancer" brings punk rock energy with sawing guitars and start-stop dynamics, but Mitski's voice barely rises above it, like she's whispering in your ear in the middle of a mosh pit. Later on, a tinny, canned beat runs through the "Fireworks" and fascinatingly mutes its climax and makes it sound distant, lonely and longing.

The music video for the brutal, bruising track "Your Best American Girl," reveals sorrow, frustration, and ultimately transcendent self-love in the face of rejection. On record, the song's quiet verses and roaring chorus create a startling juxtaposition between a girl who desperately wants to slot in with the perfect man, and the girl who realises she can never be the perfect American girl: "Your mother wouldn't approve of how my mother raised me. But I do. I think I do."

Mitski is frank about doubt and pain, but in admitting her struggles there is inherently a kind of determination and self-control. The frustrated, searing "My Body's Made of Crushed Little Stars," finds her howling "I better ace that interview. I should tell them that I'm not afraid to die," like a mantra, and immediately after she faces her fears with grim acceptance on the enigmatic "Thursday Girl."

Ultimately, Puberty 2 is about self-acceptance. Mitski is staking out her place by ensuring that she doesn't erase the things that make her different and unique - the things that set her apart from the white, male hegemony. Her willingness to subvert the tropes of rock music is an offer of camaraderie to anyone who has ever felt marginalised or left out because of who they are.

Puberty 2 is a short album, but it leaves a mark. Closer "A Burning Hill" provides a sort of peace after the immolating excision of the rest of the record. In the final moments, Mitski both becomes and witnesses a purifying forest fire, which leads to a sense of calm and balance. Alone and unguarded, she accepts herself: "So today I will wear my white button-down. I can at least be neat, walk out and be seen as clean. And I'll go to work and I'll go to sleep and I'll love the littler things."

Puberty 2 is out on CD, vinyl and digital formats on Friday June 17th.