Review: Japanese Breakfast – ‘Soft Sounds from Another Planet’
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Soft Sounds from Another Planet is the sophomore album from the Eugene, Oregon based solo artist, Japanese Breakfast. If you were a fan of their 2016 release Psychopomp, this will be all surprises, no disappointment. The new album stays within the dream-like world that Michelle Zauner has created for herself as Japanese Breakfast, but it shows more of what its bitter sweet soil has to offer.
“Boyish” is one of the singles off the album and it’s telling the story of two lovers, one of whom has a reoccurring problem of staying faithful to the other. With lyrics like, “And all of my devotion turns violent/If you go to her don’t expect to come home to me” and “I can’t get you off my mind/You can’t get yours off the hostess/Watched her lips reserving tables/As my ugly mouth kept running,” you can hear the struggle the individual is experiencing. They find themselves being too in love with someone who doesn’t have the means or capability to love them back and they crave something more beautiful. As you listen closer and closer to the track you’ll find that it has a very late 50’s, early 60’s sensation to it. I could hear it being played during a scene that’s directed by John Waters. The beautiful layering of a guitar riff dripping in sympathy over a slow and hollowing drum progression, topped off with a harp and paired with Zauner’s melodic vocals just to makes our hearts yearn that much more.
There are very few title-tracks that I would consider to be some of the best work on said album, but “Soft Sounds from Another Planet” is an absolute exception. The song is a voyage for the happiness you think you deserve. It’s your search for soft sounds from another planet. The whole song holds its hazy and dreamy atmosphere as the beginning vocals are somewhat distorted forcing you to listen deeper to the words she’s singing about whoever this person is. Imagine yourself as a child daydreaming about a place that only exists in your mind. A castle or city in the sky, all its colors, textures, sounds and flavors are there for you to be swallowed in by. That’s the visual embodiment of this song that collides with the lonely concept that, for the moment at least, is not really there.
Some of the songs take a more technical and experimental turn. “Machinist” makes every other track on this album seem stripped down as this song dresses up with autotune, a synthesizer, a drum machine and a saxaphone. The only parts that aren’t auto-tuned are spoken word passages. I noticed that through the use of this technique, I paid more attention to what was literally being said. “All the times I felt so plugged in/You were tuning out/A muted channel, a cold ship, a hologram, an abyss”.
As the second release from Japanese Breakfast, it’s a thoroughly impressive and intimate group of songs from start to finish. Hard lessons and realities are carried from Zauner’s brave words to her baring and passionate voice, which is a talent not all people have the stamina for. I’m not sure if it was intentional to feel like you’ve left with something after listening to Soft Sounds from Another Planet or not, but I definitely did.