Monday, July 11, 2016

Puberty 2

Do you remember when you hit puberty? I sure as heck don't. I remember boys in school talking about the exact moment their voice broke or their balls dropped or whatever, but I have no recollection of experiencing a 'BAM! Puberty!' moment like that. Where others spoke of puberty as a sort of instantaneous levelling-up, I just sort of gradually noticed that my voice was changing, I was getting spots more frequently, and I had fur where there was no fur before.

In retrospect, though, my teenage years were pretty uneventful in general. While my friends were having scandalous hook-ups, explosive break-ups, and all manner of drunken drama in between, I was mostly watching from the sidelines, convinced that I was somehow above it all (teenage me was kind of a dick). I remained a virgin until the age of 18, and I didn't drink until I was 19. I don't think I even masturbated for the first time until I was in university. My adolescence was primarily defined by playing in bands, listening to music, and sneering at my peers for being normal teenagers who did normal teenager things.

pictured: teenage me

My twenties, in contrast, have been far more tumultuous. Since turning 20, I've been cheated on, I've imbibed an ungodly amount of rum, I've vomited on pavements, I've been to parties that I could scarcely even remember the following day, I've jumped into bed with people mere hours after meeting them...I've basically done all the stuff that my friends were doing when we were still in secondary school. At times, I've felt happier than at any other point in my life; I've also felt more lost, more hopeless, and more bereft of direction than I ever felt during my occasionally stressful but always neatly-structured journey through school and university. In short, my twenties have belatedly given me a taste of the drama, the thrills, the emotional strife, the existential uncertainty, and the heady recklessness that most people associate with adolescence.

All of which brings me to Puberty 2 by Mitski.

This album, which came out last month, attempts to distil the turbulent twenty-something experience into just 11 songs, and I must say that Mitski Miyawaki does a tremendous job of this. Sonically, Puberty 2 is a spot-on reflection of what it's like to be an adult who still feels like a teenager: adrenaline-pumping rock songs and crashing, distorted crescendos are sharply contrasted against more detached-sounding 'down' moments (I Bet on Losing Dogs) and floaty, ethereal songs that feel untethered from reality and slightly unsure of where they're headed (Thursday Girl and especially Crack Baby, which is a clever musical metaphor for life after 20 in that it doesn't particularly progress anywhere but gradually intensifies until it's almost unbearable).

I'd wager that my fellow exasperated millennials will find plenty to identify with on Puberty 2's lyric sheet, too. For example, one of the cruellest realities of one's twenties (as opposed to one's teenage years) is the fact that not all of your contemporaries are in the same boat as you - at least hormone-wrecked teenagers know that all their hormone-wrecked schoolfriends have to do the same exams as them. But once you leave school, that level playing field disappears, and everyone is left to forge whatever path they can. Some of your friends land lucrative managerial jobs or train to be doctors, while others settle for minimum wage supermarket work or simply stay at home getting stoned all day long. Some people make great successes of their lives, while others find themselves completely marooned with no clue of what to do now. 

This yawning gulf is gorgeously summed up in the first few lines of Your Best American Girl, Puberty 2's stunning lead single:

"If I could, I'd be your little spoon and kiss your fingers forevermore,
But, big spoon, you have so much to do,
And I have nothing ahead of me"

When I hear this, I picture Mitski's boyfriend kissing her goodbye as he heads off to his hectic, high-powered job, leaving her in bed wondering what she's going to do with her day/life. Your Best American Girl perfectly evokes that feeling of struggling to keep up with your peers, of wondering what you have to do to enjoy a life as rich and as sparkling as theirs.

And then there's Crack Baby, the album's penultimate track. That title is a rather dark metaphor for that nostalgic yearning, vague yet desperate, that you start to feel once you've realised you're now a grown-up: like the infant born addicted to the substances its mother abused, "you don't know what you want, but you know that you had it once and you know that you need it back".

So yes, Puberty 2 is full of strife and sadness and uncertainty, but it's implied that all of this is kind of preferable to what comes afterwards, the point where you embrace your adulthood and finally come to the end of that second puberty. On Fireworks, Mitski looks ahead to that moment of resigned acceptance with little excitement:

"One morning this sadness will fossilise,
And I will forget how to cry,
I'll keep going to work and you won't see a change,
Save perhaps a slight grey in my eye."

Last week, I wrote that Still Valid by MJ Hibbett & The Validators made me feel better - cheerful, even - about the fact that I'm now a grown-up who's only going to get grown-upper. Going forward, I think Puberty 2 will be the album I put on when I don't want to feel better about that reality. If you're lost and confused and your life's running away with you and you don't feel ready to be a proper adult, then I'd strongly recommend that you dive into Puberty 2 - its 11 songs are ideal for revelling in that turbulent feeling.

Puberty 2 is available from Mitski's Bandcamp page.

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