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Mitski Creates A Heightened Remembrance Of Adolescence On 'Puberty 2'


This is FRESH AIR. Our rock critic, Ken Tucker, has a review of the new album by Mitski. That's the stage name of a singer-songwriter in her 20s who has described herself as half Japanese, half American, but not fully either. Her new fourth album is called "Puberty 2" - that's the number 2.


MITSKI: (Singing) Glory, glory, glory to the night that shows me what I am as I go...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: The voice Mitski most often uses is a haunted one, a low commanding tone that can break loose into a passionate cry when the emotions she's tapping into demand it. She and her producer, Patrick Hyland, play all the music on the album, and they like to keep their keyboards, guitars and the minimal percussion tucked behind Mitski's voice. You can hear the way she builds a song on "Your Best American Girl," which begins quietly.


MITSKI: (Singing) 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.

TUCKER: About halfway through that song, the stakes are raised. The guy she's singing to needs to know who he's dealing with. She describes herself as someone his mother wouldn't approve of. This Japanese-American woman calls her guy an all-American boy for whom she's going to try to be quote, "your all-American girl." I think I'll regret this, she adds. Now listen to how much more fierce this song "Your Best American Girl" becomes at its climax.


MITSKI: (Singing) Don't wait for me, I can't come. Your mother wouldn't approve of how my mother raised me, but I do, I think I do. And you're an all-American boy. I guess I couldn't help trying to be your best American girl...

TUCKER: On the beautifully tense and controlled song "Fireworks," Mitski talks about recovering from what she calls, a sadness, which she likens to pulling out a knife that's sticking in her side. The music that surrounds this language is minimal; a couple of guitar chords and keyboard fills, while her voice, in a kind of echo chamber, floods the song with the immensity of that sadness.


MITSKI: (Singing) One morning this sadness will fossilize, and I will forget how to cry. I'll keep going to work, and you won't see a change save perhaps a slight gray in my eye. I will go jogging routinely, calmly and rhythmically run. And when I find that a knife's sticking out of my side, I'll pull it out without questioning why. And then one warm summer night, I'll hear...

TUCKER: The name of the album is "Puberty 2," that number 2 attached as though it was a movie sequel. But in this case, Mitski creates music that serves as a heightened remembrance of adolescence. She's tapping into memories that aren't all that musty for someone in her mid-20s, yet which are being shaped by a singer who is very much an adult woman.

"Once More To See You" begins with a big, 1960s girl-group beat to speak of a romance that's being conducted in secret, and the secret itself becomes a powerful element - a partner, a co-conspirator in the relationship.


MITSKI: (Singing) In the rearview mirror, I saw the setting sun on your neck and felt the taste of you bubble up inside me. But with everybody watching us, our every move, we do have reputations. We keep it secret, won't let them have it.

TUCKER: This album has an impressively wide range of sounds, with big highs and low lows. Her music gets classified as indie rock. But until I read that label applied to it in a number of places, that category hadn't occurred to me because Mitski's music seems so much larger, so much more all-inclusive than a specific genre. It's music that presents itself as a series of private thoughts, but which its author knows speaks to ideas and feelings her audience is having all the time.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Mitski's new album, "Puberty 2." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.