Release Date: Jul 14, 2017
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Love can be anything. Soft Sounds From Another Planet is Japanese Breakfast's (real name Michelle Zauner) follow-up to Psychopomp, a diary of regret and mourning in the wake of her mother's death that retains a - not incongruous - musical buoyancy, as it also celebrates her relationship with her partner, whom she married before her mother went into a coma. Psychopomp ponders how love moulds the contours of our emotional lives, whether it's casting a shadow or striking a match.
Michelle Zauner, sole creator of the indiepop project Japanese Breakfast, made 2016's Psychopomp amid the death of her mother from cancer, a catastrophic event that can easily turn anyone to an unfamiliar path. For Zauner, it meant an ongoing search for solace in loss. Soft Sounds From Another Planet continues that journey. It's a somber, starry lullaby that results in periods of fitful sleep marked by struggles with fading love and death's vague mystery.
Last year, Michelle Zauner released her debut album under the Japanese Breakfast moniker Psychopomp. Psychopomp was a winning lo-fi dream pop album that felt grand despite its intimate scale. Focused on personal narratives, specifically the death of Zauner’s mother from a rare form of cancer as well as Zauner’s analysis of sex and its requisite desires, it featured ebullient songs like “Everybody Wants to Love You” whose simple first verse goes: “Can I get your number / Can I get you into bed? / When we wake up in the morning / Can you give me lots of head?” This simple pick up line is funny its directness but takes on a new kind of power when sung by a South Korean woman fronting an indie rock band.
Michelle Zauner's first album as Japanese Breakfast, 2016's Psychopomp, was a meditation on grief in the wake of her mother's death from cancer, as well as a raw portrayal of sexuality and heartache. That these subjects could coexist in the same space isn't unusual (death and sex often mix, especially at the edge of human experience), but Zauner's gift for connecting specific details to simple metaphor was uniquely affecting. "The dog's confused/She just paces 'round all day/She's sniffing at your empty room," she sang on "In Heaven.
A recent Guardian article, entitled 'How indie got woke', concludes with a comment from Korean-American experimental-pop musician Michelle Zauner. 'I just don't want to think that women of colour making music is the new chillwave, and next it's on to cats playing keyboard,' she says. 'I read food articles about how Korean food is over and it's all about Vietnamese and I think, Fuck you.
Depending so heavily on yourself to survive a trauma makes it a challenge to eventually reconnect with those who are so desperate to help you heal. On the new album from Japanese Breakfast , Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Michelle Zauner explores how living with loss can ultimately bring you closer to the people you love, while also examining the desire to remain isolated and occupied in order to not have to fully confront the immeasurable pain you carry like a burden that will always be yours to bear. The album is a refined study of the complicated effects of grief, as well as a genuine expression of how someone chooses to rebuild themselves after a crucial part of them is taken away.
When Japanese Breakfast first emerged into the world, it was to deal with the loss of Michelle Zauner's mother. The solo project from Little Big League singer Zauner mourned with impeccable pop style on 2016's Psychopomp. A year on and Soft Sounds From Another Planet finds Zauner seeking escape from trauma, shooting off to the stars for a synth-tinged autotuned adventure every bit as good as her debut.
The first Japanese Breakfast album Psychopomp was the best kind of bedroom pop record; fragile, intimate, and slightly weird. It drew from various indie pop tributaries and was built around Michelle Zauner's achingly pure vocals and her unique pop vision. On Soft Sounds from Another Planet, she and producer Craig Hendrix take the project out of the bedroom and aim for something larger.
P sychopomp, Korean American Michelle Zauner's 2016 debut as Japanese Breakfast, was an emotional response to her mother's death from cancer. The follow-up finds the singer beginning the process of healing. The vast sonic palette perhaps mirrors the way that a devastating loss can heighten the senses. Fizzing electro, hazy shoegaze, funk basslines, electronica and even an 80s pop sax solo blend together into a bittersweet, happy-sad soundtrack.
There's a moment near the end of the video for "Everybody Wants to Love You", one of the singles from Japanese Breakfast's acclaimed 2016 record, Psychopomp, where singer Michelle Zauner shreds a guitar solo on the hood of an 18-wheeler. The video delights in gleeful racial playfulness: Zauner, dressed in traditional Korean garb, pounds out the solo, drinks aggressively, rides on the back of motorcycles, and generally explodes stereotypes of "traditional" Asian culture and its more recent "model minority" tropes. Even in the traditional Korean hanbok, Zauner needs be no symbol of politeness, economic success, or upwardly mobile immigrant sensibilities; she just rocks.
The first Japanese Breakfast album, Psychopomp, was an anomaly, a necessary funnel for Michelle Zauner's emotions as she tended to her ailing mother. Its surprising success was double-edged; vastly surpassing the popularity of her previous band, Little Big League, Zauner's artistic triumph nevertheless required her to relive the trauma of her mother's death daily, both onstage and in interviews. On Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Zauner attempts to thread a very tricky needle by once again tapping into the deeply personal core that marked her debut while keeping a minimum safe distance between herself and her music.
But what if romantic love is not what we find when we go exploring? What if it’s not the only thing in the universe? What if it’s not the only thing worth talking about? The question here goes unanswered. And maybe it’s unfair to ask, because in space, lovers are always star-crossed. But indulge my moony ways for a moment — what else does outer space mean in music? Zauner’s interplanetary craft doesn’t have the zaniness of Lucia Pamela or even her Stereolab echo, though it gestures to Gwenno’s motorik pop.
Lost in spaaaaace The best thing about the new Japanese Breakfast album might be the contextual tidbits, which is a bit of a backhanded compliment. Soft Sounds From Another Planet is charming even in its half-successful space-y conception; allegedly, it was meant to be much more sci-fi heavy, but eventually saw itself grounded in Michelle Zauner's day-by-day (in some cases, month-by-month, and so on) woes. The drawn-out opener, "Diving Woman", sets the tone for this in a cleverly self-aware affirmation.
The highly-anticipated follow-up to 2015’s Ivy Tripp, Waxahatchee’s Out in the Storm is Katie Crutchfield’s most emotional and personal and album to date. Her fourth album is distinct in its sonic aesthetic, marked by heavy guitars and pounding, tinny drums. It’s a noticeable departure from the airier, synth-based Ivy Tripp, but the new record maintains the characteristic Waxahatchee sound first heard on 2011’s American Weekend and honed on 2013’s Cerulean Salt.
"I want it all" Michelle Zauner wistfully and repeatedly cries on this album's opening track 'Diving Woman'. It's a lyric that describes the tone of this whole second album, as her ambitious spirit pushes her to evolve. Zauner's subtle sensuality reminds me of Lana Del Rey's nostalgia-laced storytelling, with a driving bassline and twinkly guitar behind it that's like some mix between LCD Soundsystem and Frankie Cosmos.