The Pinhook, Durham
Sunday, June 26, 9 p.m., $12–$14
You’ve probably lived through it, so you certainly know: Puberty is terrible. Bodies shift. Awkwardness abounds. Adulthood beckons. The prospect of surviving it again, of course, is terrifying.
But the twenty-five-year-old singer-songwriter Mitski Miyawaki, who releases records under her first name, tackles the prospect directly and bravely on her fourth album, Puberty 2. It’s an unflinching look at the perils of growing upfor the rest of your life.
Since the release of 2012’s piano-heavy Lush, Mitski has emerged as one of indie rock’s most celebrated new auteurs. Back then, she was studying composition in New York, so those early works sport rich orchestrations and list toward folk. On 2014’s Bury Me At Makeout Creek, though, she shifted more toward what’s nominally indie rock.
That stylistic progression is important, because Puberty 2 combines the beautiful and the downright odd in a way that indicates she’s tweaking the mix in real time. Puberty 2, for instance, opens with a jittery beat that suggests a broken stream; the song, a pop-rock gem warped by a giant funhouse mirror and called “Happy,” spools out of it.
But what’s most alluring about Mitski are her lyrics, wrung through with emotion but still oddly opaque. She wraps rich metaphors in her velvety alto. “I Bet On Losing Dogs” portrays sex as something doomed and uncomfortable. She compares the way a lover gazes at her during coitus to the pitying looks she gives dogs who will lose during a race. “Your Best American Girl” captures the struggles that come when romance crosses lines of class and background. “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me,” she sings. “But I do, I think I do.”
Though Mitski was born in Japan, she moved around the world for much of her life until eventually settling in New York. When Mitski issued “Girl” as the first single from Puberty 2, a few publications tried to connect its maelstrom of guitar to an implicit critique of indie rock’s overwhelming whiteness. She soon set the record straight.
“I used those tropes to accentuate the point that I could use their methods and act like I was of their world,” she wrote on Facebook, “but I would never ever fit.”
This public reclamation of her own narrative is essential for songwriting that often finds Mitski exploring the truth, like music itself, in real time. In the week before Puberty 2‘s release, for instance, she peppered her online notes to and from fans with an apology for some of its other metaphors, specifically the association of addiction with vacation. “I wrote it when I was seventeen and in a bad place… I apologize truly for the offense,” she said.
The gracious act encapsulates what Mitski now does best and why listeners have taken so fervently not just to her music but to hershe’s growing up in public and doing so in a way that doesn’t so much defy fear as it does stare it in the face, daring it to react.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Growing Gains”