Frankly I’ve become rubbish at writing since I had a kid; my free time has been eroded, and I’d rather spend it on a bicycle or hanging out watching TV with my wife rather than hunched over a laptop typing. Hence the tardiness in writing this post, and the brevity of some of my recent responses. I am sure that you, faithful reader, are feeling pangs of yearning for more verbose times . (Today is a good day to post this, however, as Wikipedia tells me that tomorrow is Mitski’s birthday.)
So then, Mitski. I’d never heard of her before this earlier this year, when I noticed Puberty 2 sitting near the top of the Metacritic top albums list. The last time I noticed a solo artists I’d never heard of before on there was St Vincent in 2009, so I figured she was worth a punt. And she is!
Puberty 2 is, basically, an indie rock record; there are guitars, and bass, and drums (along with [synthetic, I assume] trumpets, and keyboards, and stuff), and a woman singing about identity and heartbreak and dreams belonging. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before, and many times, but Mitski does it very well: perhaps her half-Japanese, half-American heritage (“your mother wouldn’t approve / of how my mother raised me / but I do / I finally do”) offers a slightly different perspective; perhaps the fact that she studied music at university in New York state gives her a compositional edge. Perhaps we should ignore the ontology and just listen to the tunes?
There’s a definite 90s alt.rock aesthetic to a good chunk of Puberty 2: the crunchy guitars that aren’t afraid to reach a dynamic crescendo (get a load of the grinding, swooning climaxes in “Your Best American Girl”), and the distorted vocals that reveal emotional tension by masking it could be from 1996.
This is probably just cultural privilege and cliché, but Mitski‘s voice wasn’t what I expected either; it’s a much tougher, more strident vehicle, and reminds me of someone who I can’t quite place. (On the night Rob said, instantly, Angel Olsen, but at that point I’d never knowingly heard Angel Olsen, so it wasn’t her – though I’ve since bought her new record and there’s a definite similarity. Tom said St Vincent, but that didn’t scratch the itch either.)
Puberty 2 is incredibly hooky; this year it’s Mitski’s tunes that are buzzing around my head: from the gentle refrain of “I Bet On Losing Dogs” to the thrashy, discordant blasphemy of “My Body Is Made Of Crushed Little Stars” and the poppy rush of “Happy”. If I was 17 rather than 37 I think I’d be soaking this album in, playing it over and over again and using it as a scab and a balm and an exorcism. As it is I’m just appreciating it on some kind of artistic level, and faintly wishing I was 20 years younger.
I doubt the others can even remember it by now…