The Case for Puberty 2
By Jon Fuchs, Reviews Editor
There’s one thing I need to get across with this piece right here: Tanner is wrong. Obviously, there is no such thing as a bad Mitski record, and Retired from Sad, New Career in Business is amazing, but her most recent record, Puberty 2, is hands down her best album to date. Just look at the name alone: Puberty 2. What other name perfectly describes the themes and emotions Mitski’s music brings out? Challenging the listener with thoughts about love and sadness similar those one would have during adolescence, Puberty 2 is Mitski’s most honest and beautifully written record to date, with excellent production and instrumentation to match.
The opener “Happy” helps back this up through her storytelling, personifying the emotion of happiness as a lover who only comes to help periodically, leaving her sad and hollow again. It’s a beautiful opener that is just as relatable as it is catchy. The next track, “Dan the Dancer,” shows the diversity of Puberty 2’s influences, as it feels heavier and completely different from the last track. What doesn’t change, however, is Mitski’s soft and gentle vocals, which linger throughout the entire record.
“Once More to See You,” “Fireworks” and “Your Best American Girl” continue the record with lyrics about love, depression and self-identity. These are probably the densest songs on the entire record, with layers upon layers of different kinds of instrumentation, from distorted guitars to 808 bass. “Your Best American Girl” could arguably be considered one of the best tracks of 2016, with its loud, booming chorus and verses that feel the exact opposite, with a guitar melody so quiet, you can hear to metronome in the distance.
My personal favorite song on Puberty 2, “I Bet on Losing Dogs,” is probably my favorite Mitski song period. The song is about being in constantly crumbling relationships, which feels so incredibly real and heartbreaking to anyone who’s ever fallen in love and eventual despair. The opening lines “My baby, my baby / You’re my baby, say it to me,” sung with Mitski’s gentle voice, is so comforting and so depressing, you can’t help but get instantly attached. The track continues with a beautiful harmony between Mitski and the synths, that eventually end with a somewhat uncomfortable chord that fits perfectly with the emotions the track makes the listener feel.
The last few tracks on the record play off as a series of heartbreak. “My Body is Made of Crushed Little Stars,” easily the most abrasive song on the entire record, is Mitski screaming internally at all of her everyday stress and anxiety. “Thursday Girl” is arguably the catchiest song on the record, with its nice, repetitive hi-hats and beautiful synth textures. The album suddenly ends with “A Burning Hill,” a short, tear-jerking acoustic song about leaving a toxic relationship. It acts as the perfect closure for such an emotionally intense and exhausted record.
It’s probably not as sonically epic or impressive than Retired from Sad, but Puberty 2 is still Mitski’s catchiest and best record yet. It’s got her most personal and poetic lyrics and some of
her best production to date. Once again, there is no such thing as a bad Mitski record, but this one really takes the cake as the best of the four.
The Case for Retired from Sad, New Career in Business
By Tanner Bidish, Contributor
Mitski Miyawaki, known to most solely by her first name, is an incredibly talented musician. Since 2012 Mitski has put out four albums all dealing with the crisis that is growing up. Speaking to issues of relationships, sex, identity, self-worth, and more, her work has amassed a following of youths in turmoil. This year’s release of Puberty 2 was met with praise and acclaim from across the board, and rightfully so. Puberty 2 is fantastic, and while it’s sure to top many album of the year list in 2016, it’s not quite the best Mitski record. That title would have to be her sophomore release, Retired from Sad, New Career in Business.
Retired from Sad was recorded in Mitski’s senior year of college at SUNY Purchase. The academic setting gave her access to recording equipment and resources – including a 60-person orchestra – that allowed her to sound professional even on this keenly experimental album. The record is highlighted by musical decisions that give way to a theatrical atmosphere. This reflects with each listen feeling like a performance in and of itself.
Songs rooted in a relationship with her mom bookend Retired from Sad. Each giving insight to the doubt, admiration, and love felt toward a mother. The hums and swells of strings sooth the eardrums across the entirety. It makes for an unparalleled emotional accompanist to Mitski’s assailing vocal range and skill. The crescendos in “Square” showcase the strength to switch Mitski commands the arrangements. She sore as a lyricist as well. The use of the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty as backdrop to “Humpty” sets a thematic juxtaposition of innocence and maturity; it’s intelligent and dramatic. And the dramatics don’t relent.
“Shame” seduces the listener under the might of strings, with vague unmusical screeches in the back. Mitski’s voice pulls you in, “It feels so good, and right outside the door and nobody knows.” She lets out a gasp. Reverb hits her voice at the song’s climax. Unfolding is a beautiful embodiment of the guilt and pleasure that can surround young sex. Theatrics continue with the unconventional instrumentation in “Circle”, which deliberately appeals to the track’s narrative form, over musical. The choice is clever, and slick enough that it may go unnoticed.
Retired from Sad, while sorrowfully dripping with emotion, doesn’t stray away from sweeter moments. “Strawberry Blond” is perhaps the happiest song in all of Mitski’s discography. Her bright upper range carries this acoustic ditty. Guitar, piano, violin all blend for a jubilant movement; a choir even joining in for the last hit of the chorus. More bitter than sweet is the piano lullaby, “Because Dreaming Cost Money, My Dear.” Mitski’s cooing vocal melodies pull at feelings of the past, a lost nostalgic hope. Calm brass, and vocal layering at the end pull together the theatric flourishes that are quintessential in this record.
The album takes its curtain call on “Class of 2013.” Naming her senior project with a phrase personally associated with moving to the next stage in life is powerfully. The title fits this piece impeccably. The listener sees her pleading with her mother; a chance to stay home, to be taken care of just a little longer, to not feel so adult. “Mom, am I still be young? Can I dream for a few months more?” The track is raw Mitski; only her voice and the piano.
Sir Isaac Newton is often quoted with saying, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Retired from Sad, New Career in Business is the set of shoulders holding Puberty 2. Puberty 2 is an incredible work, but its themes are – at their core – a further elaboration of what Retired from Sad started. Structurally both operate on similar levels, each even ending with an acoustic ballad featuring Mitski with a single instrument. The 2013 release may not stand taller in the public eye, but Retired from Sad, New Career in Business is the essential Mitski record, and her most definitive release to date.