Bury Me At Makeout Creek, Brooklyn musician Mitski’s 2014 debut for Double Double Whammy, is a cohesive statement of an album. But it’s not one of authoritative deliverance, nor is it one of unwavering confidence. It’s a record of honesty, but one that doesn’t downplay the fear inherent in seeing yourself openly — existing in the gaps between intimacy and dependency; freedom and idealism; loving and being loved.
Mitski Miyawaki was born in Japan, yet spent most of her developing years in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She has lived in Turkey, Taiwan, China, and a number of other countries, but officially launched her musical project in New York, where she received formal musical training at SUNY Purchase College. During her time as a student she released two records — 2012’s Lush and 2013’s Retired From Sad, New Career in Business — junior and senior projects, respectively.
The array of formal resources at SUNY Purchase allowed Mitski to experiment with grandeur and provide a polish to her sonics. You can see her stretch her musical muscle in technically dynamic vocal performances and varied instrumentation (even, on some songs, utilizing a 60-person student orchestra). Thematically, she explored ideas she continues to expand upon on her most recent record, such as the double-edged sword of femininity, the bondage of youth, and the social capital of beauty. She addresses all these topics with a deft touch, exposing horror with humor and providing healing through the open display of scars.
Bury Me At Makeout Creek continues to demonstrate Mitski’s lyrical acumen, but does so while flexing a more jagged musical muscle. Piano progressions are replaced with distorted guitar striking, and tempos rise with a newfound volatility. Mitski embodies a garage-rock sound without the mentality — circumventing the genre’s lo-fi focus by bolstering her songs with unexpected production flourishes, such as the one-off synth hook on “I Will” or the shimmering arpeggios on the pre-chorus of “First Love / Late Spring.” The album is one of defining moments — from her patriarchal dismissal of “Fuck you and your money!” at the beginning of “Drunk Walk Home” to the brutal scream Mitski unleashes at its end.
Even at her gentlest, Mitski can wield her words to inflict potent introspection. The album closes as she ponders how she’ll be remembered if the plane she’s on suddenly goes down. She wants to be known for being kept together, even though she knows the reality is far from the truth — to “die clean and pretty,” even though she always was “too busy on working days.” However, I do think Mitski will be remembered for having kept it together. She’ll cement a legacy for turning micro-aggression into powerful expression, and like the stampeding drums on “Drunk Walk Home,” moving forward with confidence despite knowing she may stumble along the way.
Things are looking bright for the time being on Mitski’s road ahead. Her next album is on its way — she’s been working on it for the past year — and while she hasn’t announced any major touring plans for the near future, she is playing a solo show at Swedish American Hall as part of Noise Pop later this month. The show features a deeply compelling set of openers, including LA singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, as well as a poetry reading by San Francisco’s own Monica Mody. But Mitski alone is reason enough to attend. Her live performances seem to affect her as much as they affect an audience, and it is this reciprocity that defines her as a musician.
Mitski’s voice shines inside and outside of her songs (she has become one of the most compelling interviewees in music, and has a exceptional Twitter presence as well), and many who have felt voiceless have found a means of expression through her. She advocates for the interests of those who would like to go to shows alone without judgment; those who want to like music not accepted by the notorious white-male indie crowd; those who would rather jump to the deep end of a friendship without having to wade through the shallow-side of conversation. Oftentimes idols are chosen as ideals for what one hopes their own voice could sound like, but Mitski has proven herself as an idol for being someone you can recognize your own voice in. Whatever she ends up saying next, I’ll be listening.
Mitski, Phoebe Bridgers, Jay Som, Monica Mody
Swedish American Hall
February 24, 2016
8 PM, $15