By Mathew Wilkins
VANCOUVER – Two months following the release of an enormously strong sophomore album Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Japanese Breakfast (AKA Michelle Zauner) continues to establish itself as an alternative pop project with a serious knack for thoughtful lyricism, sonic experimentation and brilliant melodies that get stuck in your head with gravitational strength.
The album maintains distinct sounds and styles from the previous release, unmistakably due in part to the small, tight-knit community of friends who continue to aid and influence Michelle Zauner in the creation and performance of her music. Japanese Breakfast’s bass player Craig Hendrix, for instance, —who co-produced Soft Sounds From Another Planet and played many of the instruments on the album— is responsible for mixing and mastering the debut album These Are Good People by Zauner’s other project Little Big League back in 2013.
The opening track “Diving Woman,” however, is at once an indication of how and where this album departs from previous material, weighing in at a full four minutes longer than any track off of 2016’s Psychopomp. The song features Zauner’s dreamy, airy vocals meandering over drawn out, rhythmic instrumentation that’s reminiscent of bands like Sophtware Slump era Grandaddy or American Football.
“When I made Psychopomp, it was not nearly as deliberate as this album,” Zauner says. “I was making that record for myself and it was a record that I didn’t think anyone would really hear.”
Her deliberation on this new record is apparent elsewhere as well, as vocals and instrumentation alike lend a wonderfully cohesive and particularly spacey sonic quality to the music— a move that was anything but incidental.
“We really wanted to have this feeling of floating in space… I had [my synthesizer]’s little blips sounding like robots or satellites talking,” she says of the instrumental track “Planetary Ambience”.
Soft Sounds From Another Planet had in fact began as a concept album, after Zauner and co-producer/drummer Craig Hendrix worked together to produce the track “Machinist”— a song about a woman who, after having her heart broken by her robotic lover, flees Earth to colonize Mars. The initial attempt at a sci-fi theme had been made as a reaction to the extremely personal tone of the last album, which was written and recorded two months after Zauner’s mother passed away after battling cancer. The project was soon abandoned however, as Zauner’s personal life continued to inevitably influence her writing.
“Soft Sounds was written a year and a half after processing everything that happened. I had success as an artist for the first time and gotten married… This tremendously sad thing had happened simultaneously with two really celebratory things in my life.”
Zauner describes the album as an attempt at processing grief and moving forward in the wake of tragedy. Songs like “Diving Woman” and “The Body is a Blade” speak to the immense difficulty in dissociating from trauma; how pouring yourself into hard work, routine, and regimen can occasionally help sooth the potent pain of loss. “Till Death” and “12 Steps” conversely explore the other side of Zauner’s life, moving forward from her mother’s death as she describes the love she feels for her husband, Peter Bradley, occasional bass player for Little Big League.
Soft Sounds From Another Planet is a faultless followup to Japanese Breakfast’s debut album, from its introspective yet accessible lyricism to its nuanced musicality. Zauner has further honed in on a personal style, providing us with an album further demonstrating her musical diversity and prowess, yet maintaining themes and styles so beloved by the fans she’s already gleaned.
For those interested in the forgotten idea of a heavy-handed concept album, rest assured Zauner plan to one day tackle such a project is still bubbling beneath the surface as she waits for a moment when fan attention begins to wane and she can get away with something a little more “funky and weird”. But don’t hold your breath; should Japanese Breakfast continue releasing music of the same calibre as Soft Sounds or Psychopomp, the spotlight currently focused on Zauner’s incredible talents will only burn brighter.
Japanese Breakfast performs at The Fox Cabaret (Vancouver) on September 26alternative pop, Fox Cabaret, japanese breakfast, Michelle Zauner, soft sounds from another planet