Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds From Another Planet
The vivid melancholy of Michelle Zauner’s debut album Psychopomp was built on tragic circumstances: imbued by the memory of Zauner’s late mother, the opulent reworkings of previous songs dealt heavily with grief. Though her lyrics are dark, musically Zauner typically negates bleakness in favour of something more optimistic. Take the effervescent In Heaven for example – despite the painful theme of loss, its spirited pop melody and soaring strings added warmth to Zauner’s perturbed dialogue, resulting in one of the most triumphant techniques in pop music: the juxtaposition of happy and sad.
In that respect, not much has changed on Soft Sounds From Another Planet and it’s good to hear Zauner’s love of melody and nuance is still intact. The hushed softness of Zauner’s voice counteracts brilliantly with the fuzzed-up, shimmery guitar lines on opener Diving Woman, and recall the shoegaze epoch with refreshing conviction. Elsewhere, the little injections of synth elicit a more playful approach, and while the vocoder effect on the 80s synth-pop inspired Machinist sounds a little dated, it shows Zauner’s willingness to experiment.
Here, Zauner uses the theme of outer space and science fiction to disassociate from trauma; space used as a place of fantasy, as she put it herself. While not a concept album, it flows as such, using spoken-word narratives and cosmic soundscapes to denote its futuristic bend.
The strained clarity of Zauner’s voice is what makes this album so beautiful, particularly during the contemplative balladry of This House. Moving and inspired, Soft Sounds From Another Planet is yet another lesson in guitar pop perfection.
Listen to: Boyish, Diving Woman, Steps