Japanese Breakfast is the solo project of ex-Little Big League member Michelle Zauner. Her debut album Psychopomp, written soon after the passing of Zauner’s mother, was a synthy lo-fi exploration into topics of grief and dependency. Psychopomp boasted a leap from Japanese Breakfasts initial bedroom-pop into shimmering indie rock. On Soft Sounds From Another Planet we see an even greater development, the tracks are longer and feel more fleshed out but still maintain the rawness that you would expect.
Lyrically, Soft Sounds From Another Planet doesn’t vary too far from the tone on Japanese Breakfast’s earlier releases. Emotional and honest, Zauner sings “Striving for goodness while the cruel men win” on the title track. This feeling of hope tinged with realism is very much carried on throughout other songs. ‘The Body Is a Blade’ is a great example of this hopeful realism “Knuckled under pain you mourn but your blood is flowing” gives a sense of carrying on through pain despite it all. Whilst ‘Till Death’, a love song grounded in grief gives us an honest look at Zauner’s struggles but hints at the positives of a supportive partner. Lyrically and thematically Soft Sounds From Another Planet almost has a Mount Eerie vibe, realistic and at times tragic but always honest.
Whilst the lyrical content on this album is no doubt significant, the guitar work and instrumentation on this album puts it in a different league. Reverb drenched guitars and cutting synths characterize much of the albums songs. With additions of saxophone, string sections and even harpsichord sounds, push the album past the lo-fi limits of Psychopomp. On songs such as ‘Boyish’, a reworked Little Big League song, it is transformed into a Richard Hawley-esque ballad, with string sections complimenting Zauners melancholy vocals. On the other end of the spectrum we have songs such as ‘Machinist’. An 80s-style pop-song about a human falling in love with a robot, originally written as part of a failed concept album about space, topped off with cheesy saxophone solo. Soft Sounds From Another Planet is musically diverse from the get go and provides a wonderful juxtaposition to the typically dark lyrical content.
It is great to see Japanese Breakfast transform into a very unique project. The album, whilst varied in musical style does not fail to stay consistent. And this is no doubt Soft Sounds From Another Planet’s greatest strength. The contrast of instrumentals that hark to visions of space travel and hazy dreams with lyrics grounded in real life and honesty result in a truly beautiful and unique mix. Zauner explores themes that carry on from Japanese Breakfasts Psychopomp, as well as new themes but the quality of lyrics and music keeps this album interesting and fresh. This is no doubt a welcome step in the development of a project that you really shouldn’t sleep on.By Caylan Hallows