Mitski, am I right? She’s almost too good to be true. 2014’s Bury Me at Makeout Creek was the record that got our attention, but she’s been honing her craft for years, and it shows. We love her for her lyrical prowess and her energetic, inventive melodies. Bury Me at Makeout Creek is a record I just can’t get away from, and I don’t mind. There are songs for quiet Sunday mornings, for driving home at night, and for dancing like you’re alone in your home bedroom again. Disparate moods and threads of stories are weaved together by Mitski’s compelling voice, which disarms with trembling beauty and screams when it needs to. It’s a cohesive record that tells the story of a life lived day-by-day until small actions coalesce into a month, a season, a feeling. Its intimate rebellion can be summed up by the line “I don’t need the world to see that I’ve been the best I can be,” its breathless adolescence by “I want a love that falls as fast as a body from the balcony,” and its confessional candidness by “lately I’ve been crying like a tall child.” I could go on, but you’ll just have to listen closer for more gems such as “let me walk to the top of the big night sky.”
While I’m still enveloped by the world of Bury Me at Makeout Creek (I can’t help but be fond of a record that ends with the word “goodbye”), Puberty 2 (out June 17th on Dead Oceans) is going to be important. I love the title — it’s sort of cheeky to refer to this record as a sequel. It’s like she’s saying: here I am trying to grow up again in my 20’s and broadcasting my efforts to the world. Classic millennial, always oversharing! There wasn’t a Puberty 1 to begin with, but it does come on the heels of an album that was a relatively big deal. It signals that we’re never quite finished growing up, that the volatility of youth can and does follow us into “adulthood,” especially for artists like Mitski who are constantly probing their personal lives for material.
The first single, Your Best American Girl, is a triumph, and it’s the actual point of this post. The song starts out softly meandering and quickly swells into noisy brilliance. In light of the chorus, I tend to hear the first few lines (“If I could, I’d been your little spoon and kiss your fingers forevermore”) as a little too twee to be genuine. As in, I’ve heard similar sentiments in many a Los Campesinos! song. Maybe I’m being cynical and all blahhhh love is not that great and there’s nothing new under the sun, but I’d argue that Mitski is, too. That line followed by some characteristic doubt and sadness — she’s incredibly smart and self-aware in her songs (and elsewhere: her Twitter is one of my favorites). So when the speaker whispers “you’re the one, you’re all I ever wanted,” it’s the set-up for something more, something that turns those kinds of clichés inside out. And that’s the anthemic chorus:
Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me
But I do, I think do
You’re an all-American boy, I guess I couldn’t help but trying to be your best American girl.
She had to go and bring their mothers into it! That’s what’s so great about Your Best American Girl. It’s about trying and failing to conform to normative ideas about what people should want. It’s about otherness – Mitski is half Japanese and didn’t grow up in the U.S., so her place as a queer Asian woman artist in the oftentimes overwhelmingly white male sphere of indie rock is celebrated and fraught in all kinds of ways. It’s about how confusing and electrifying it can be to hold multiplicities within yourself. “How my mother raised me” is not the American way, which is always suspect, but Mitski decides to take ownership of it despite the challenges.
I refer to the speaker of this song as Mitski, because she has stated that it’s autobiographical. In her own words, from an interview on NPR, “It came from wanting so badly to just fit into this very American person’s life, and simply not being able to. Just fundamentally being from a different place and feeling like I would just get in the way of their progression in their life. Because I could just never get to where they’re naturally going.”
And then Robin Hilton goes “sounds like you’ve had this real tug of war in your life, and in the making of this record and this song, between who you are and who you think you should be. Or how you think everyone wants you to be.” And I was like YES! And then Bob Boilen just recites the rest of the lyrics in awe and Mitski goes “Yup. Thooose are the words.”
The brilliance of Your Best American Girl comes from how it tells this deep story through just a few powerful lines. It lets the listener do the interpretative work. As a child of Asian immigrants myself, I’m blown away and emotionally invested by just the mention of mothers – it dramatically expands the song into territory that I didn’t expect it to reach when it started. With “I do, I think I do,” there’s the tentative acceptance of her family’s history, complexity, and differences. There’s the rebellion and assertion of agency – two of the things I love most about Mitski’s music – combined with a heart laid bare and a defeated: “I think I’ll regret this.”
The official video, directed by Zia Anger and released on April 13th, is equally arresting. Basically, Mitski locks eyes with a dude across the set of a music video and falls in love. He winks (ew). She’s smiling and waving, making herself available. The man (listed in the credits as “Bro”) is then approached by a Lana Del Rey look-alike (“Babe”), and Mitski’s like “oh no,” but she can’t stop waving even as the two start getting involved and love comes crashing down. Her hand seems to be moving of her own accord, stuck in the habit of waving, desperately trying to get this shiny guy’s attention. When you’re told you should want something over and over, you start to believe it yourself. Suddenly she turns to her hand and looks at it as if into a mirror. She sees herself. And then she makes out with her own hand with abandon. It’s a passionate embrace that’s haunting and beautifully choreographed. The couple across the room are also making out, but it honestly looks way less meaningful than what’s going on with Mitski and herself. Finally, Mitski breaks away just as things are getting even more heated with the couple. She looks at them dismissively, flashes a knowing smile at the camera, and then it’s all about her and the sparkly dress and the guitar. She’s taking over as the true protagonist of this story, asserting her otherness, and exposing the staged cheapness of the other couple’s union all at once. They have their trendy aesthetics — fringe, twinkling lights, bubbles, and lollipops — but Mitski breaks into a victorious smile while playing her guitar and singing “I do, I finally do.” The couple wraps themselves in an American flag as Mitski lightly twirls away, propelled by her own music. She walks away without a second glance, and I’m compelled to do the same – stride away from everyone who’s helped me build a wall between my Americanness and the rest of me, while praising the way Mitski turned it into art first.
Puberty 2 is out June 17 on Dead Oceans. She’s also going on tour this summer – be sure to catch her at Brighton Music Hall on June 22nd. I’ll be there!
Hey everyone! WMFO is pleased to announce its first ever DESIGN CONTEST! The rules (and prizes, including two tickets to Deerhunter at the Royale on December 10th) are as follows:
You can submit as many designs as you want, as long as they’re in by the deadline of November 20th at 11:59pm! Please email those designs to email@example.com.
Your design MUST feature “WMFO” and can optionally also feature 91.5fm or wmfo.org. We prefer front-only designs, but if you want to do a back too, that’s a-okay! The image size should be large enough that we can put it on a tshirt and it won’t be distorted; ideally it should be an Illustrator file, but we accept all other kinds of files as long as they’re big and clear.
The winner’s design will be used on a large run of tshirts and potentially other station promotional material, and they will receive:
The runner up’s design will be used on a limited run of tshirts, and they will receive:
Winners will be chosen by the WMFO Executive Board and notified by Thanksgiving Day.
By submitting to this contest, you are giving us the rights to use your artwork on tshirts and potentially other promotional material for the station – if your design is not chosen, you retain all rights and ownership. If your design IS chosen, we will notify you of what exactly we will be producing with it.
I figured at least one post from me this summer was in order. Anyway, I’ve been really busy but not busy enough to listen to Ghost BC. This band has been around for a bit but I’ve only recently gotten around to taking the time to listen to them. I have to admit, I love their gimmick. They are fronted by a man in skeletal face paint and wearing a pope hat and his name is Papa Emeritus III, they’ve apparently burned through two others. He is fronting a band of “nameless ghouls” and they are just that nameless. There is a recent interview in Guitar world where the interview is with one of the two guitar players. You can read that here – INTERVIEW WITH NAMELESS GHOUL. Even more interesting is while the music is about Satan, its more from a theological standpoint and takes a different approach as opposed to Slayer or Venom or just about every Black Metal band on earth… What is more interesting is the sound/music this band puts out. Their imagery is one thing, their music is entirely different. There is a very retro sound from this band and not because of the guitar, the vocals are what is different. Unlike most metal bands, the vocals are clear and is some parts can be aggressive but all in all its something entirely different. I’ll leave you with their video and if you are interested, they play Boston in September. BTW points for the Walter White mask in the video. That is all for now.
Hi We are in the middle of summer and the weds nights are cool with great line ups coming this Summer and Fall….Aug 5 The Wait…8/17 FireKing [checkout their great c d “Doulble Trouble”] 8/19 Jennifer Greer Dignazio [ Her cd “HEY TIDE”]…8/26 Noah Maltzborger…9/2 Madam Bruja….9/16 Courtney Swain …9/23 Drunken Logic ….9/30…The Guiloteenages… 10/7 Emily Grogen Band…10/28 Sarah Blacker..please join us at 9 pm weds and check out our facebook page also and Keep rocking !