by Tricia Wise
Though just shy of 26 years old, Mitski is already an artist who effortlessly manages to blur the line between force and fragility. Here is an extensive release of existential and outsider themes that evoke both utter despair and raw power, along with inevitable feelings of growth, command, and maturity. Mitski already realizes and fluently expresses emotional knowledge through her lyrics, which varyingly speak directly to the girl on a drunk walk home alone, the girl listening to records on her bedroom floor after a bad breakup, and the girl who is just trying to be the best she can be and still feels inadequate. Speaking to the anxieties, both modern and timeless, of the teen and young-twenties girl, Mitski unwaveringly roots for the underdog; pretty much any situation you can imagine feeling like you are definitely gunna die, Mitski has probably already sung about it.
I pulled up her recent album Puberty 2 released June 17th) on Spotify as I rode home from a friend’s apartment around midnight. I was a couple of songs in when I reached my own dimly lit apartment, but decided to ride around a little more to complete the album (as if I hadn’t already heard it a million times). Puberty 2 is the type of album where you really just have to listen to it all the way through, maybe two—or three—or twelve times in one sitting.
The first song I heard that got me hooked on this wonderful Brooklyn-based artist was “First Love/Late Spring,” which I have tried and failed countless times to learn on guitar. This was from her previous album, Bury Me at Makeout Creek (2014). It was Tuesday afternoon in October of last year; I was lying on my bed after a long day of classes, procrastinating making my way up the hill to the library to write my capstone papers. The lyrics were so striking and hit me so hard, I had to immediately listen to it three more times.
In the words of Lester Bangs, “music—you know, true music, not just rock’ n’ roll—chooses you.” Mitski’s is the kind of music that makes these words ring true for me. I knew of a few friends who mentioned Bury Me at Makeout Creek in the past, but it wasn’t until that day when I stumbled upon this dark and emotional album that I finally got what they were all talking about. And I think there’s something to be said for Bangs’ statement—music is this all-encompassing powerful shit that can just encapsulate your entire soul whether you’re at an open mic night, a stadium concert, or alone, lying on your bed listening to your third generation green iPod Nano (do not judge me). No matter the setting, Mitski’s songs are just this kind of all-encompassing and captivating music—the kind that seems to choose you.
Mitski does not hold hesitate to immerse herself in her own emotions and sadness, which in itself is remarkable in a time when female artists are often expected to show indifference or relentless power towards relationships—and yet, Mitski still manages to make music that is undoubtedly empowering. Anyone (but actually probably just millennials) can relate to her honest and overtly relatable lyrics. (Check out “Class of 2013”).
Although Bury Me at Makeout Creek has a far more dejected feel than her recent release, Puberty 2 surrenders to these dark themes, but challenges their melancholy through the strength of its own self-aware sadness. In this album, Mitski seems to “put on her white button-down” and face everything head-on.
The album opens with “Happy,” which articulates an accurate view of the “Netflix and chill” culture and those ramifications. Two other songs off the album, “A Loving Feeling” and “Once More to See You,” have a similar vibe—however, “A Loving Feeling” is a much more ironically upbeat number.
“I Bet on Losing Dogs” and “Thursday Girl” are two of my favorite songs on the album, despite being two of its slowest. Both definitely have a dark feel with nice, heavy melodies that are perfect for listening to at 3 a.m. or even while going for a jog.
“My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” brings up a similar apprehension toward adulthood as in “Class of 2013,” but with more of a classic punk vibe (I am here for that distortion). In this song she talks about not being able to pay rent, yet “wanting to see the world” and trying to “ace an interview”—all things manypost-college graduates are currently experiencing.
“Your Best American Girl” was the first single from the album, and definitely one of the best. Watching the video makes it even more relatable and, like, ugh. It also seems like she’s making fun of (generally, white) music festival culture (so American) and makes out with her own hand—even though the video seems quirky and a bit tongue-in-cheek, there is still a lot of depth within the video itself. To be real, this song speaks to me on so many levels…the “I do, I finally do” in the last verse always gives me chills.
In “A Burning Hill,” the final song of the album, she describes herself as “a forest fire” (quite different from the Dead Kennedys song). With an atmospheric timbre appropriate for a finale, the most powerful lyric in the song may be: “I stand in a valley watching it and you are not there at all.” Honorable mentions go to “Fireworks” and “Dan the Dancer.”
She may not have “hit it big” just yet, but Mitski undoubtedly deserves to become (as I predict she will) one of the most influential musicians of our generation, and surely already is for countless budding musicians (myself inclu
ded)—which makes it kinda hard to write an unbiased review, and to stop to watch her live performances on YouTube while writing this. Ultimately, Mitski’s music is the kind that is so powerfully personal and so emotionally raw that I cannot help but be reminded of that quote at the end of Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2000), when William asks Russell what he loves about music, and he responds as Led Zeppelin’s “Tangerine” plays in the background:, “To begin with, everything.”
Tricia Wise is a recent graduate of Clark University and an aspiring writer (and possibly makeup artist). To read more of her work, visit her blog at www.beantownbroads.com.