On her last record, Mitski Miyawaki snarled “I want a love that falls as fast as a body from a balcony”. More than any other line on Bury Me At Makeout Creek – unquestionably the greatest of all the albums with a Simpsons reference for a title – its stands out as concise representation of the singer’s self-flagellating attitude towards romantic companionship. Mitski doesn’t just want to fall in love; she wants to fall hard, fast and head over heels into something that’s as passionate as it is perilous. The morbid, provocative imagery may appear disingenuous, but it captures the sheer terror and queasy uncertainty of finding you crushing hard on a new face.
On this year’s accomplished follow up, Puberty 2, that same sense of aching sincerity pervades. The 24-year-old is like the last straggler at your house party who starts sharing a bit too much and bit too soon but, for whatever reason, you find yourself eagerly anticipating each next word, even if you’re the one doing all the clean-up. From the title alone, it would appear that Mistki is venturing into a new age of maturity, of self-realisation and of finally being able to sneer at the prospect of a relationship where she is perpetually at the bottom of the seesaw. But after listening to these therapy sessions she calls songs, Puberty 2 is revealed to be a Trojan horse of a title.
That niggling number suggests a fruitless sequel, a pattern the singer knows she is veering into again. Some things have changed since Makeout Creek, but a status quo remains. This time out, there’s foresight, but it’s not heeded. Mitski can see the crash in front of her, but she doesn’t switch lanes, because the alternative is desperately lonely road. Trust a track with the name ‘Happy’ to be one most ominous and unnerving on the album. It must be the only song in history that successfully uses of the image of cookie wrappers and empty cups of tea to convey the emotional sucker punch of a one night stand skipping out on you. The penetrating bass snippet gives the listener less of a chance of settling then the speakers’ slimy sexual partner.
Happiness literally ‘cums inside of her’ but its presence, like that of the person who departed while she was “in the bathroom” is fleeting and only offers a bitter aftertaste. The possible double entendre of come/cum makes a number of appearances throughout but don’t think this means the orgasm is a tender experience. On ‘I Bet on Losing Dogs’ the singer relates someone “looking into her eyes” while she comes to “watching her die”. Here sexual climax isn’t an act of loving, mutual affection but rather a sobering moment of clarity, of being brought crashing down to a lonesome reality.
Casual hook-ups have never felt so gut wrenching. ”What do you do with a loving feeling, if a loving feeling makes you all alone?” is asked on ’A Loving Feeling’. Mitski’s relationship choices may not have matured, but her music sure has. Makeout Creek was essentially 30 minutes of fiery folk punk but here those indie rock sensibilities are stretched somewhat to reflect a more disquieting mood – see the alien, unexpected horns of ‘Happy’, the creeping trip hop of ‘Crack Baby’ the anarchic strumming of ‘Fireworks’ and the singer’s own sometimes spectral vocal work. As pointed and personal as the lyrics are, the sonic tension produced is just as capable of exhibiting the anxieties, crippling self-doubts and displacement concerns that our central figure endures.
Miyawaki isn’t about blaming others. She’s looking inward, and although she fears what she finds, she is also aware that it’s these insecurities that offer her creative stimulus. On ‘Thursday Girl’, she sings glory to the night as it reveals her true self. She first asks fellow party-goers to take away her chronic introverted tendencies in the hopes of fitting in, before backtracking and begging them repeatedly to “tell me no”. Her differences may offer difficulties, but they also define her.
You can’t talk about an album like Puberty 2 without talking about its centrepiece, ‘Your Best American Girl’. It is quite simply, one of the tracks of the year. Much has been of made of the song – in somewhat patronising fashion – in terms of it being a comment on the difficulties of asserting an Asian identity in a western word. While the Japanese-born New Yorker certainly has no issue with openly skewering white perceptions of her native land (just look at the cruel Madama Butterfly dynamic in the promo for ‘Happy’), to call the song a mere mediation on race relations would be to undermine its emotional heft.
An indie anthem of selfless love, its sizeable, earth shattering riffs underscoring Miyawaki’s decision to let go. While for Mistki, it’s trying to conform to American standards of womanhood that forces her to revaluate who she’s with, ‘American Girl’ should ring painfully true for anyone who’s naively believed that selling themselves out will salvage a burgeoning relationship. “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me but I do, I finally do” is perhaps the only line that offers a sense of crystal clear clarity throughout.
Albums, for whatever reason, sometimes remind me of certain scenes from films. And for whatever reason, Puberty 2 called to mind the final moments of Michel Gondry’s romantically fatalistic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. After having all memory of their torrid affair erased from their psyches, hapless couple Joel and Clementine are quite literally shown what the future holds for them if they decide to reunite. It will be a relationship marred by neurotic flaws, different wants, flaky personality traits, pitiless insults and mutually assured nit-picking, yet the two do decide to go ahead with each other anyway.
This is what searching for love is, knowing full well that it will most likely end in heartbreak, but choosing to endure that eventual heartbreak for the respite from loneliness. Charlie Kaufmann knew it and Mitski knows it. This knowledge does not make her more foolish, thoughtless or uncaring but only all the more human.
EIGHT / TEN