There is a specific sound to an artist who’s hit their stride. It can be heard straight away on “Happy”, track one of Mitski’s latest record, Puberty 2. A stuttering saxophone and machine toms puncture the track in happy support of a song that climbs from one brilliant moment to the next. It’s the sound of Mitski’s voice pawing back at the arrangement, steering a half-comatose introduction seamlessly into a pounding chorus. All of the sounds — the signature crashing walls of sound and Mitski’s warbling giant of a voice — toy with us, in exactly the way we want to be toyed with.
Mitski’s (and her producer/co-performer, Patrick Hyland’s) stride in all elements of the album-making process, this being their fourth album made by themselves from the recording all the way through the master, yields music that feels spontaneous but also diligently designed, even when it’s throwing up a middle finger with simple, thrash-y songs like “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” with barely a groove or structure. The songs are passionately performed and wryly composed. The melodies cocoon up in layers of cool phrases, dark, cooing flourishes, and belly-supported howls.
Mitski’s voice (in all senses of the word) commands the center of her tracks with such power, she is like a tornado that sucks detailed arrangements into its grip. As such, she can dip into a range of musical ideas and surf them like a curling wave. Songs like “Loving Feeling” and “My Body’s Made of Crushed Glass” take an alternative rock sound and channel the song through the center in its own unique, glittering translucence. Throughout, she makes use of drum machine and guitar sounds like a pop heroine in a video game war-scape, gathering tools that make her stronger.
As can be expected from a record titled “Puberty 2”, Mitski’s brand of strength is communicated as much through rocking out as through expressing vulnerability. Self-effacing, witty introspection is the norm throughout the lyrics. They include confessional worries about paying rent, the need to be said “no” to, neurotic thoughts about “maybe I should erase that interview”. Instead of dwelling in any sense of angst, the admissions only enhance her queenly aura and underlying sense of control.
And perhaps because they are so personal, the songs have a match-striking sense of relevance. The wrecking-ball of a single, “Your Best American Girl”, is a crushing portrait of a young woman trying her best to find her place within successive generations of American women, all the while deciding how the way she loves plays in. The song resonates in its own half-funny, pseudo-triumphant way at a moving intersection of both female and immigrant struggle.
Mitski’s career has been one of anonymous toil followed by intense critical promise with Bury Me at Makeout Creek, at last delivered upon with blinding clarity in Puberty 2. And yet, the progression is so drastic, it at once insists that this is an artist not done growing, and a surefire source of future classics. This album may very well turn out to be one, after we’ve all spent some well-deserved months of listening.