Ask Mitski Miyawaki - otherwise known simply as Mitski - about happiness and she'll warn you: “Happiness can really fuck you.” It's a lesson that's been writ large into the New Yorker's gritty outsider indie for years, but never so powerfully as on her newest album, Puberty 2. “Happiness is up, sadness is down, but one's almost more destructive than the other,” she says. “When you realise you can't have one without the other, it's possible to spend periods of happiness just waiting for that other wave.” On Puberty 2, that tension is palpable: it’s a beautiful and brutal romantic hinterland, in which one of the American east coast’s most fierce new voices hits a brave new stride.
The follow-up to 2014's Bury Me At Makeout Creek - which was named after a Simpsons quote and hailed by Pitchfork as “a complex 10-song story [containing] some of the most nuanced, complex and articulate music that's come from the indiesphere in a while,” - Puberty 2 picks up where its predecessor left off. “It's kind of a two parter,” explains Mitski, who's toured around the world and played with the likes of Speedy Ortiz and Hundred Waters since that album's release.
The 25-year-old cuts the same defiant, feminist figure on Puberty 2 that won her acclaim last time around. Born in Japan, Mitski grew up surrounded by her father's Smithsonian folk recordings and mother's 1970s Japanese pop CDs in a family that moved frequently: she spent stints in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malaysia, China and Turkey among other countries before coming to New York to study composition at SUNY Purchase. As you might have guessed from the album's title, that adolescent period is a time of her life she doesn't feel she's entirely left behind. “It came up as a joke and I became attached to it. Puberty 2! It sounds like a blockbuster movie. I actually had a ridiculously long argument whether it should be the number 2, or a Roman numeral.”
Musically, Puberty 2 has subtle evolutions: electronic drum pads pulse throughout, underneath fervent guitar lines. There are keyboards and organ sounds - even distorted saxophone played through a guitar amp. “I went out to tour Bury Me At Makeout Creek and started listening to other types of music more,” says says. “I felt less confined. I started exploring other types of music that I enjoy - particularly pop and hip-hop - and while I certainly wasn't set on making a pop or hip-hop record, I did end up feeling more uninhibited and free in how I decided to express myself. At the end of the day, I think I'm a pop writer in that I feel like I'm very conscious of the pop song form, and the momentum in a song - in the sense of moving to a peak and evolving from there.”
Recorded with producer Patrick Hyland - with whom Mitski has worked solely with for several years - Puberty 2 is her most confident and ambitious record to date. “The more my music world has expanded, the fewer hands I wanted in the studio process,” she clarifies. “It just felt like there were more and more voices telling me what I should and shouldn't do. All those people are helping me obviously and they're doing their jobs, but I just wanted to keep it to me and Patrick as he understands me in ways that other people don’t. You know the Drake song 'No New Friends'? It's like that. The more I do this, the more closely I stick to the people I know,” she says. “I think that focus made it my most mature record.”