In recent years, the term ‘indie,’ be it as a way to describe a type of sound, a release or production approach, distribution and so on, has been stretched to the point of having no discernible or typified characteristics. ‘Indie’ can be dismissive and overarching, but in some cases, it can signify something unique and profound. Enter Japanese-American artist Mitski Miyawaka, better known as simply Mitski.
25 years old and already on her fourth album, the Japan born Mitski is all set to release Puberty 2 this Friday June 17, the follow up to 2014’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek. Given her sheer, raw, talent, it seems a considerable disservice that she has not yet invaded the mainstream consciousness through her art. A defiant, yet accessible feminist voice is rare and refreshing. And yet, sticking to that ‘indie’ classification may well be comforting; it can allow her to process everything she feels into her art, and can proceed to do so unscathed by fame.
“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.”
Regardless of whatever comfort Mitski may find in her indie classification and relative obscurity, Puberty 2 will hopefully brighten the spotlight and draw incredibly well-deserved attention towards her.
It is hard to ignore the sounds found on extraordinary album opener Happy, which presents itself as a breathtaking sonic amalgamation, perhaps best likened to ‘industrial folk’, although attempting to pigeonhole this sound is fruitless. From the industrial synths, to the saxophone intermittently chasing the vocals, to the understated lyrical poetry, Happy is an example of music as transcendent poetry, of music as art.
Reimagining a man as an incarnation of happiness, or perhaps vice versa, Mitski strips the encounter bare; “And when you go, take this heart, I’ll make no more use of it when there’s no more you.”
The opener segues brilliantly into Dan the Dancer, who “had never danced outside of his room.” Borrowing from the sounds and attitudes of punk rock, Mitski employs profound vocals and an ambitious aural landscape to tell a sorrowful story of a man weakened by the hard edges of the world, who grew reliant upon the comfort of his own isolation. “When he’d say goodnight and leave her doorstep, he’d use his last strength to wave back.”
From there, Mitski’s abilities and diversity sees the album transition seamlessly into the woozy, gothic Once More To See You. An ominous see-saw of a song which looks back to the sounds of Bauhaus and The Cure, Mitski utilises these sounds to develop her own; through the beautifully delivered vocals and sincere, exquisite lyrics; “If you would let me give you pinky promise kisses, then I wouldn’t have to scream your name atop of every roof in the city of my heart.”
Fireworks changes the landscape once more, utilising a strong run of bass guitar to emulate post-punk sounds that brilliantly contrast the cinematic, soaring vocals. Speaking to the sorrowful heart seeking catharsis and respite, Fireworks sees Mitski at her most philosophical, her most grandiose. “I’ll hear fireworks outside, and I’ll listen to the memories as they cry, cry, cry.”
The sudden, soft opening of first single Your Best American Girl could almost be thought of as an exhausted shortfall following the previous track. However, Mitski soon dispels any such notion with the orchestral rise of guitars almost drowning out her voice; “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me.”
Your Best American Girl is a curious offering, finding the artist waging war with her mixed upbringing and mixed feelings of belonging; “half Japanese, half American, but not fully either.”
It is truly refreshing to find an artist willing to not only address the turmoil around her, but that within herself. Typically, one feels, it is one or the other. Similarly, I Bet On Losing Dogs finds Mitski confronting a shortcoming of her own, as she wrestles with her penchant for pursuing relationships she knows will not end well.
Similar still, My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars, a punk rock ode to the sorrows and misery of struggling alone in the world, finds Mitski mapping the journey of not knowing how she is going to pay her rent, painfully wailing, “I better ace that interview, I should tell them that I’m not afraid to die, I better ace that interview.”
The journey continues with Thursday Girl, where Mitski bashes her artistic head against the wall, forcing herself to come to terms with her own issues, sorrowfully recognising the need to take efforts to rectify or solve. It is a painfully recognisable sentiment of numbness and depression; “I’m not happy or sad, just up or down, and always bad.”
The segue to another upscale punk rock composition on A Loving Feeling is well balanced by the continuation of Mitski’s narrative, wrestling with the feelings of love and not being good enough, of uncertainty and loneliness; “Talking to everyone but me, I’m staying up late just in case you come up and ask to leave with me.”
“What do you do with a loving feeling, if the loving feeling makes you all alone.”
On Crack Baby, the comparison between cocaine addiction and the longing and needing for happiness may seem brash and wayward, but Mitski takes such glorious, delicate time to flesh out the idea, that it soon becomes apparent just how perfectly the comparison fits. The same way an addict may chase the feeling of their first high, Mitski chases the feeling of happiness; “wild horses running through your hollow bones.” She chases a happiness that she cannot perfectly recall, but craves nonetheless; “Crack baby you don’t know what you want, but you know that you had it once, and you know that you want it back.”
It seems fitting that Mitski concludes her album in a manner which suggests that she has finally attained a form of peace, moving on from past love and sorrows on Burning Hill. Perhaps she is not yet happy, but she attains a defiant attitude to moving on and pledges herself to finding small pockets of happiness. To close the album she sweetly sings, “I’ll love some littler things.”
Such a profound journey feels almost impossible to comprehend on a single album, but Puberty 2 is her most cohesive and extraordinary work, with its own sense of awareness and maturation. While some may argue that the art of poetry is dying, Mitski joins a throng of artists proving that it is in fact thriving, in a unique new way.
Through the course of Puberty 2, Mitski unfolds just how precisely the term ‘indie’ fits her as an artist. Not in a dismissive manner, but in the way it can be used to be describe the abstract. Difficult to define, but nonetheless profound, it communicates to parts of us that are often untouched by modern art. Puberty 2 is exactly as brief as it needs to be, while exceeding all expectations. A beautiful body of work, and a tremendous achievement, Puberty 2 is also a celebration of Mitski’s arrival as one of music’s best artistic voices.
Puberty 2 will be released June 17. Pre-order now on iTunes and receive Your Best American Girl and Happy as immediate downloads. You can also listen to the whole album here via NPR