Album Of The Year:

Mitski

“Puberty 2”

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Dead Oceans

(Listen / Buy)

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You can read our full list of recommended albums from 2016 here.

Our end-of-year coverage is kindly supported by TicketSelect, a ticket price comparison website which finds tickets for your favourite gigs from a variety of online ticket sellers: “One search, all tickets” – Find Mitski’s forthcoming UK tour on TicketSelect here

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Puberty 2″

words by tom johnson

“Happiness fucks you.”

And with those three words, Mitski introduced her new album, Puberty 2, to us and to the world and never once looked back for approval. Formidable from the industrial noise that opens it, to the crushing declaration of learning to love the littler things that acts as the album’s fleeting, heart-breaking, farewell, it’s a record that spectacularly bridges the gap between music that heals and music that hurts; music that is powered by its standing as outsider work, and music that subsequently empowers those that associate with it, for those same reasons.

Thematically it follows the path exposed by its title, the idea that adolescence isn’t a one-stage event battled through only during our teenage age years, but something that also affects us as we reach that weird space on the brink of adulthood, and further, when all the melodrama and mundanity feels just as real and stifling as it did in the years that preceded such things. “Happiness is up, sadness is down, but one’s almost more destructive than the other,” Mitski said of the record’s inspiration. “When you realise you can’t have one without the other, it’s possible to spend periods of happiness just waiting for that other wave.”

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Will you let me, baby, lose on losing dogs?

I know they’re losing and I pay for my place by the ring,

where I’ll be looking in their eyes when they’re down.

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And in waves it comes. Perhaps what’s most staggering about ‘Puberty 2’ is the constant flow it articulates; the album loose and unconfined as it powerfully clenches its fist in one moment, and then sends you in to a weightless free-fall the next; like a head-rush so unexpected you’ve no idea how to conquer it, so you just close your eyes and succumb to the spin in the hope that some form of balance will return.

Sustained by two very distinct arms, Puberty 2 is both musically adventurous and lyrically challenging. The former is buoyed by Mitski’s subpreme musical craft and intuition, as capable of finely detailing some fascinating interlude as she is at delivering a gut-punching, grin-inducing slab of guitar. Then there’s the words that bind these songs together. Fascinating, daring, brave, unflinching; they’re handed the fiery torch from her previous record – 2014’s Bury Me At Make-Out Creek – and simply run with it. There’s distinct imagery, used to hammer home points in definitive style, such as on opening track “Happy” or the knee-trembling miserere of “Crack Baby”, then there’s the flip-side; lyrics so plain-stated and pronounced they leap out of the surrounding darkness like a sudden firework out of season:

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“One morning this sadness will fossilize, and I will forget how to cry.

I’ll keep going to work and you won’t see a change,

save perhaps a slight gray in my eye.”

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Then, on top of all of this, there’s “Your Best American Girl”, the year’s most stirring pop song, and still, to this moment, such an incredible force of songwriting power. We delve in to the track in more detail below, but it’s also worth noting just how much of an impact the song had in terms of paving the way for everything that’s followed. We often talk about songs as marker-points – as prominent, personal flags raised above city rooftops that scream “Here I am!” – and, in that respect, “Your Best American Girl” was Mitski’s heart, soul, and guts smeared across a canvas for all to see, fluttering in the win while she stood doggedly, determinedly beside it. I can still remember the first time I heard the track, and I suspect the same is true for many; that tender opening, all little spoons inside of big spoons, and then the steadiest of builds, dragged out like days, moths, years of poisoned sentiments that suddenly burst in to flame while the guitars soar, the voice soars, the entire fucking world around you soars. It’s a miraculous moment, in a miraculous record, and it’s effect was immediate. With every passing day since its arrival Mitski – the rock-star, the inspiration, the guiding light – seemed to grow exponentially. A champion for safe spaces, a voice for the marginalised; a real life superhero, wearing no mask, who can silence a room with one steady, unflinching gaze and not an ounce of posturing.

From the little strands of self-doubt and deprecation that wind their way through every inch of the record, to the immense weight that these songs throw against the world in return, Puberty 2 is a bold, poignant, commanding, and incredibly important piece of music.

The album of this year; and for many, many years to come.

What it means to me…

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Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast): There’s this secret underground ring of women musicians who text each other when something pisses them off, or they’re feeling road worn or unsure about themselves. I remember once Mitski texted me something along the lines of ‘we belong nowhere, and that can be a beautiful gift’. Like her advice, Mitski has the sound and lyrical insight of someone wise beyond their years.

I feel incredibly lucky to have spent five weeks with her this year on the first US tour of her incredible new record, Puberty 2. The album feels otherworldly in its sonic gifts and wise warnings, yet somehow manages to connect outsiders and insiders alike. I have probably listened to ‘I Bet On Losing Dogs’ hundreds of times and every time I hear it I still just crumble.

Jeanette Wall (Manager: Mitski, PWR BTTM): It is astonishing when you make it to the top of the mountain. Nearly three years of looking out to, and working towards, what would be ‘Puberty 2’ has given me some of the richest learning experiences a young person can hope for. The moment I heard her strum out the words over an acoustic guitar – “I guess I couldn’t help trying to be your best American girl” – I knew that what was ahead was something very special.

And to go on this journey with one of the most inspiring, working artists today, with the best team, is the definitive dream come true. With songs that are oceanic, brimming with profound sentiment, this record is a true privilege to be a part of, an exploration that Chris (Salty; co-manager) and I are honored to be on. And now we are left looking to the next mountain and it is beautiful and challenging and thrilling.

Jess Weiss (Fear Of Men): Mitski’s record resonates with me because it’s telling stories that haven’t been told before. Indie music can sometimes feel completely oversaturated with dull, middle class white boys and this is the antidote to that – a really smart, sensitive, poc woman offering a different perspective. It was amazing to tour with Mitski and see young women inspired by, and singing along to, her songs every night. I was one of them. She just makes great records – complex, emotionally resonant, melodic, and challenging.

Kevin Devine: Mitski’s is the record I listened to most this year, and I keep finding things every time I return. The wide range of color in her expressions, arrangements; the ease with which she radiates and owns those colors, makes them hers; the lyrical detail, drilling at the meaning and poetry and sweetness and sadness and wry humor in the “mundane,” revealing life everywhere it is – no small feat – all with that voice, singular and commanding. It’s her year and it’s a pleasure to be a witness.”

Ellis Jones (Trust Fund): Mitski doesn’t get enough credit, I think, for being really musically adventurous. A lot of the reviews mention college rock, and obviously the lyrics, but there are so many moments where her songs land on chords or melodies that college rock never knew existed. I think that’s what I love the most about Puberty 2 — that basically every song does something more adventurous than you realistically could have asked for.

Hannah Read (Lomelda): Every time I tell someone new to listen to Mitski’s music, the first descriptor I get out about it is “important” – and then I garble a bunch of emotions into words. Mitski’s ‘Puberty 2’ teaches me about being a human. The world needs this great work of wisdom and angst and power right now.

Dean Smitten (Doe): I remember hearing “Your Best American Girl” for the first time on a short walk from my old apartment to meet someone I shared a bed with and crying as the chorus dropped. The whole of ‘Puberty 2’ is that moment for me; cheeks wet, alone in the dark, suspended between two familiar places but wanting more. “My body’s made of crushed little stars and I’m not doing anything.

“Your Best American Girl”

words by sammy maine

There are moments when a song drops into your memory, plucking all the individual aches you thought you had long buried. They glow like neon signs, manifesting themselves in your bathroom mirror, your pillow, your phone screen. Images of their hand in yours, their chest rising, their hair falling forwards, bury themselves as splattering, patterned colours behind your eyes, refusing to let you rest. It was so long ago but this wound still feels so fresh.

‘Your Best American Girl’ is a song about love. It’s a song about that all-encompassing love and the turmoil you face when you know that it cannot last forever. “Don’t wait for me, I can’t come,” Mitski echoes in an almost ethereal manner, masking a shattering admittance through a hushed veil, hoping that maybe, just maybe, they won’t hear it. It’s utterly devastating.

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You’re the sun, you’ve never seen the night

But you hear its song from the morning birds

Well I’m not the moon, I’m not even a star

But awake at night I’ll be singing to the birds

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Mitski makes a special connection with love and with the questioning of personal identity that often comes along with it. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked back on my time with a partner to find myself shaking my head, unable to recognise myself; restlessly piecing together fragments of the past to reach an unattainable closure. ‘Your Best American Girl’ narrates that struggle of searching for an answer but ultimately knowing that it will never be the one you want.

By lovingly addressing her partner as ‘big spoon’ before admitting the struggles that will someday destroy their kinship, Mitski is able to bring forth a universal truth that seeps into our body and blossoms in our darkened corners. It hits you before you can even think about stopping it.

There’s also a rich symbolism throughout Mitski’s work that makes clear the juxtapositions she faces in her head and in her heart. She talks of her lover being the day – “the sun” – and whilst she’s exactly not the night herself, she finds herself awake there. She reaches for her lover’s world – “singing to the birds” – but finds that her eclipsed surroundings render her unable to make the reach, no matter how sweetly she serenades them. Sometimes it’s not enough to simply love someone.

“You’re the one, you’re all I ever wanted, I think I’ll regret this,” is softly sung before Mitski thrashes into a voluminous liberation, wrestling with her crippling decision but ultimately finding sanctuary in her recognition.

By concluding this exploration with “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me, But I do, I think do”, Mitski owns the differences that tore apart her relationship; by welcoming this identity, she’s allowing herself to be okay and in turn, allowing us all to be okay in the end.

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Mitski tours the UK/Europe in March, and plays the following dates:

mitski tour

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