E: Welcome back to the Mitski: Puberty 2 review on Blogging Ain’t Dead. I’m Eamon.
R: And it’s ya boy — the resident sadboi extraordinaire himself. Y’all already know what’s up so let’s talk about the indie rock album of the year. Yeah. I’m calling it in August.
E: I don’t know if that’s a commentary on the state of the album or the present state of indie, but yeah. Strong contender.
R: We’re going to start off the second half of this review with the slow-burner “I Bet on Losing Dogs.” I’m not going to get too, too in depth with this song because I know that it touches Eamon in a special place and, as such, he wants to tell you why that is but I’ll be sufficed to say that the heart of this album is in the center of its mass. A smoldering matchstick, clocking in under three minutes it catches flame quickly, glows and glimmers, then evaporates in a puff of smoke. Perfect for crying or foreplay — I wouldn’t go any farther than third base with it though.
E: What about this song says “hit next on iTunes before intercourse?” And on top of that, could you please give me a base-by-base playlist so I have some idea of your train of thought here?
R: Idk. I have a weird relationship with sex, Eamon. I’m prone to becoming an emotional wreck from two things: animated children’s movies (looking at you Up!) and music. Additionally, I miss my dog — a pitbull mutt that got canine parvovirus but was too much of a g to die from it. Nevertheless, my family got rid of him (a deal between lovers where the dog disappeared if firearms did, but guns showed up later tho so …. guess Lion and I were the only ones fucked by that deal). So between dog theme and sad music, I’ll be pretty teary eyed if this comes on. My point is, you don’t want me sobbing during sexy time, do you? You can’t tell I’m crying during fellatio, but kinda hard to miss in missionary.
And I only play Edgard Varèse and György Ligeti during sexual intercourse anyway. I just feel like copulation should be a journey through the transmundane. Either that or “Pick Up The Phone” by Travis Scott on repeat. But yeah, “Losing Doggos.”
E: Yeah, this is my album highlight. When I first heard it, I couldn’t help but wonder if it had any relation to this quote from Allston Pudding (Boston music blog) that Mitski’s had on her Bandcamp for awhile:
“… her music is like an aging racetrack greyhound; graceful, but still kind of sad.“
The song’s lyrics aren’t as narrative as some of the other album cuts, but there’s still more than enough to sink your teeth into: the idea of the narrator feeling some sort of unspoken connection with life’s second-place finishers; needing to someone to watch her mid-petite mort.
R: Someone to watch her die. I’m not sure if there’s anything more intimate. Whether this line is the result of her watching a French romance with the subtitles on for the first time or the actual thought of dying with another person in mind or sight — have you ever had a near death experience and your mind flashed to who you wished you could see one more time — dying, whether literal or not, in the arms and gaze of another may be the closest experience to rapture any of us will have.
E: Boom. But for me, more than anything, this is one of the best synth sounds I’ve ever heard. There’s a phaser on it that’s set a little too high, and it sounds like something off a Flock Of Seagulls B-side, but it’s somehow perfect. With the choral voices in the background, it’s beyond that. I’ve listened to this thing on a daily basis since the album came out. Can’t say any more about it. I’m this close to breaking into her studio Ocean’s 11 style so I can photograph the knobs on her Moog and steal it (I hope it’s an analog synth, wouldn’t be right if it wasn’t).
(poll on which one of us is matt damon, which one is brad pitt)
R: Pro-tip: make tiny, indiscernible changes when you use it so you can say it was original; you don’t want anybody thinking you’re a poser. But forreal, when I listen to this song I can only think of the emotion of it. She only wants this feeling, this person when she’s finally fine. A desire to look someone in the eyes as she climaxes, the craving for an intimacy that succumbs to — or maybe exists because of — sensuality, sexuality, love, lust. Or whatevs. Idk. I don’t feel the same way you lecherous beings do.
E: The surrender of control for emotional comfort. Tell your next Tinder match that’s what you’re looking for.
R: Will this actually work? I’m Tinder illiterate.
E: Get back to me in one week with results.
R: Alright. Next review we’ll have a Tinder update. But back to this song. She says one last time, “I Bet on Losing Dogs”, followed by short, lush instrumentation. Then a natural end, like passing quietly into sleep or her more overbearing cousin. But I hope you weren’t planning on staying in that state, because the next track immediately shocks your eyes into opening — rattling and piercing its way past your ears, interrupting your very thoughts. Then, with more raw energy driving the guitar line than anywhere else on the album she wobbles and cracks moreso than sings “I’m not doing anything.” And make no mistake, the guitar here is LOUD. It’s so loud in the mix that her voice has to be sidechained into the track — for those who don’t produce music it means that every time her voice is heard, the volume on the guitar is forced to duck down in order to “make space.”
This track is at it’s loudest literally one second in. And where is the percussion? No where. Not even the drum machine. It’s just Mitski and her guitar. This song is pure frustration, pure disappointment — exasperation in musical form.
“I’m not doing anything / my body’s made of crushed little stars / and I’m not doing anything.”
There’s a concept here that I think everybody in their 20s can understand — the sensation that you have so much promise by design, the promise that we were created because of some cool living cosmos ass shit, alive in the most technologically advanced era of human existence and doing fuck-all anyway. It’s even more frustrating when this isn’t our desire, when we can’t help it. But for reasons beyond our own understanding or capacity, regardless of ambition or ability, we can’t change that status. Remove the “first-world problem” from that and realize that for causes beyond us individually we are all made of crushed little stars … and the majority of us not living in Western nations in the northern hemisphere are undeniably fucked. But I guess that all of us listening to this album — let’s be honest about demographic — “first world problem” is the only problem you (including myself) know.
The music underscores its own frustration by being overbearing in its approach but amazingly simple in its musical composition — we’re back to power chords gliding freely up and down the fretboard — but the lyrical structure is poetry class 101: A,A,B,A for four out of five of the stanzas the whole way through, the hook being the only major outlier. This song stands as a close second in terms of my favorite songs on the album (“Fireworks” just gets me every time) almost purely because Mitski is able to nail bubbling frustrations so succinctly that I wonder if she follows me and my cohorts around, giving herself no more than one thousand words to capture all of our plights. She’s nailed 22 for me so far in fourteen unique words:
“I better ace that interview / I should tell them I’m not afraid to die / I better ace that interview”
A guttural gasp for breath, then the decision to try again. Melodramatic? Sure. Doesn’t make it any less true. Then, once she has nothing left to say, she simply stops — more than content to allow the feedback and the fx pedal and Patrick Hyland wind the song down for her.
By the way this song is less than two minutes long.
E: Nailed this one. After seeing her live in Boston last month, I was wondering how this song was going to play — I thought the chorus was kind of awkward, to be honest, the “kill me / jerusalem” was going over my head a bit. But Mitski and her band launched into this one mid-set, no banter, no warning, and all of a sudden the Brighton Music Hall felt like a basement show. Just guitar plus pissed off singer. Really, amazingly pure. I almost wasn’t ready for it. Mitski’s live shows don’t lend themselves to jumping around all that well (that’s not a bad thing, she’s said in interviews that she doesn’t like people throwing their hands up, even) …
R: YOU WILL FUCKING SIT FUCKING STILL DURING THIS PERFORMANCE.
E: … but goddamn this made me want to start slamming my head into things.
R: Then we have a smooth(ish) transition into a song that could’ve easily hid Dev Hynes in its shadows on “Thursday Girl.” In actuality it’s Mr. Hyland on the 1s and 2s, crafting a rich 80s-inspired electronic soundscape, more than happy to provide a lofty sound for Mitski’s voice to ride atop. It almost sounds like a hymnal at your local Presbyterian church. You know. The White ones. She begins the song with a praise and a prayer:
“Glory, glory, glory to the night / that shows me what I am / as I got to the party on my knees / saying take it all please, and tell me no”
E: That “Tell me no” vocal is impassioned. Can’t get sick of hearing it. And it’s interesting that you’re pointing out how, I don’t know, “church-y” elements of this album sound. It’s a point well taken. I don’t think Mitski’s ever strayed into the overtly religious, but there’s touches of it here for sure.
R: The lyrics feel vague, hazy, indeterminate with purpose. The only thing that’s clear is that she hopes, prays, that someone will care enough to tell her no — the person at the party who’s on edge:
“Neither sad nor happy / but either up or down / and always bad”
A person like this is a danger to his or herself, as well as others. I’m going to go ahead and be [serious] for a second.
E: I’ll be in the corner.
R: Help others. We know people like this sometimes. We ignore this person sometimes. Don’t. In the context of the song, the same way that a best friend will tell you to stop calling him because he’s bad for you and you look like an idiot for wanting him back, or telling you to stop smoking because it kills you, or pleading with you to not kill yourself because it’s selfish as fuck — in the way that only someone who cares about you will be negative sometimes, Mitski here pleads for one “no.” It’s okay to be that person sometimes. Okay, [serious] time over.
E: I’m back. But I have to mention the perfect notes of what sound like a vocoder (that thing when you run a synth/guitar up a tube into your mouth) that fade the song out. Best voice-y synth solo since Kanye on Runaway.
R: The soft noise dissipates to the clack of drumsticks announcing a faster tempo and a song that you could actually possibly maybe dance to if you’re so inclined. The last couple of songs did a good job of putting you into the mindspace and feeling that Mitski was attempting to deliver — the self-lamenting “Losing Dogs”, the frustration of “Crushed Little Stars”, the prayer sent up in “Thursday Girl.” Then we get this shoegaze-y number.
E: Shoegaze-y? I think “Loving Feeling” is a little too uptempo for that. It feels almost like a Spoon song, kind of sing-a-long indie that I could imagine spilling a beer on my shirt to. That’s not a negative in any way, for the record.
And while we’re at it, can we just stop and appreciate the sheer range of this whole album? We’ve gone from X-ray Specs-style saxophone punk to synth pop to no-filter punk to borderline stadium rock in one album. Who does that? There’s literally no one else in the game making albums that sound this varied.
R: Okay so maybe shoegaze isn’t exactly it, but that’s what the “-y” was for. Shoegaze or not, in this track we get what may be your (or your partner’s) true feelings in a casual relationship — or maybe it’s really all good. My casual relationships have been extremely weird to say the least, but perhaps I am the outlier here. And just like those relationships — and perhaps I’m only speaking for myself — the song is more than a little bittersweet, and abruptly short clocking in at one and a half minutes. The last line would’ve been a good thesis:
“You only love me when we’re all alone.”
E: And then…
R: The drum machine is back.
E: Sounding like motherfucking Portishead. All the full-bodied guitars and drums on the last track give the impression that Mitski is standing in front of a backing band, but on this next one, she’s alone with just an icy synth and an 808.
R: On the penultimate track “Crack Baby” seems intent on enveloping you in its depths. In all of the sadness that permeates this album it feels as if this song is the one most concerned with making sure that you know that it is sad. To me it feels as if the rest of this album touches on how one may deal with a deep sadness and a desire to fill that sadness with something — something like another’s love.
The idea of relating love to a drug is nothing new, but it is pervasive … probably because it feels so universal. You ain’t real if you’ve never experienced withdrawal symptoms because you’ve lost another person. Or maybe you feel a high when you see somebody. Even associations created while experiencing its effects can act as a trigger — for me I can’t listen to “Thinkin Bout You” by Frank Ocean (WHERE THE ALBUM FRANK????) …
E: FUCK PARENTHESES, FRANK. YOU HAVE ALREADY FUCKED UP. YOUS A LYIN ASS (update: frank is [sometimes] playing music on an apple live stream. for whatever that’s worth.)
R: …without feeling some type of way … you know who you are. But here we get the fold of her relating this person in love not only to an addict, but to a crack baby.
In the 80s and 90s poor urban communities — code words people, code words — experienced what was thought of as an epidemic at the time concerning fetuses, a condition coined Prenatal Cocaine Exposure (PCE). Recent findings have found that the fear over this was vastly exaggerated, but the idea is still prevalent: prenatal exposure to freebase cocaine creates a person more likely to become addicted to cocaine or its derivatives.
In the context of Mitski’s narrative, her reference is more concerned with the picture of an adolescent attempting to fill the void left from addiction. But a child is in no position to decide on what it should have necessarily, regardless of how much s/he may desire a thing. Screeching guitars, minor key changes, and OH MY GOD IS MITSKI IN HER FALSETTO RIGHT NOW? How often does that happen?? The desire here is heavy heavy heavy. This song drips with desire — almost seductive in its qualities. An irresistible lullaby, the words to the refrain versus the sounds enveloping it at odds:
“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 / and you know that you need it bad”
E: So you have a character caught up in the world of unhealthy thrills via sexual-but-flawed relationships, looking for a love more wholesome, something that she had as a child. Suddenly the crack baby metaphor doesn’t seem like much of a reach.
We all crack babies. Shoutsout Kendrick.
R: And then the album’s coda: “Burning Hill” is stripped down, a synth pad, a guitar, the faint sound of the drum machine, and Mitski. After all of the prior realizations in the record, the anguish, the joy, ups and downs, undertones of unfulfillment our protagonist has had enough. A fire has been burning, a forest is ablaze and the “you” in the song — the sometimes lover, the almost intimate — is not there. An affirmation that this inferno which will leave this bit of land stripped and barren may be for the best. Something new can grow there. Maybe.
“So today I will wear my white button-down / I can at least be neat / walk out and be seen as clean / and I’ll go to work and I’ll go to sleep / and I’ll love the littler things / I’ll love the littler things”
Love is hard. And continuing in the face of its darker side, existing in spite of it, may be the most difficult thing one can manage. But you have to continue. You must.
E: This album is staggering. It covers a massive sonic scope of rock and roll and dives deeply into a subject that many of us have felt but not put into words. It goes from almost intangibly gentle to break-through-kevlar loud on a track by track basis — all while remaining perfectly cohesive. And in a world where every sound imaginable is accessible via Logic or Reason or even Garageband, it’s crazy to see this kind of variation come through just a guitar, a bass, some drums and some keys.
I don’t know what more you want from an album these days. Mitski’s the real fucking deal.
R: You already know what we’re going to score this.
(yeah that top text was about brexit. what a hopeful time.)
R: Think we’re wrong? Tell us why.
E: Until next time.
next review? suggestions? inbox us. or don’t. whatever.
Originally published at bloggingaintdead.tumblr.com.