Album Of The Year:
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
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.”
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.
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:
“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.”
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.