An album that does exactly what it says on the tin, Michelle Zauner’ second record as Japanese Breakfast (having previously performed in Little Big League) is a constellation of dreamy, hazy songs that sound pure and other worldly, as if from a higher ethereal soundscape. It’s her vocals that make the songs on the album so special. Her tone is gorgeously unique and carries an intense range of emotions, adding to the mystifying aura of the compositions. At times her voice can become soft and mumbled, submerged in sadness and lost under the weight of the guitar and strings that often dominate the songs, but other times she can be shrill, her emo influences from her time in Little Big League piercing through at the most passionate crescendos.
‘Boyish’ is a track that perfectly showcases this vocal range and capacity for carrying emotion. Having rehashed it slightly since its conception in Zauner’s band days, the newly polished ballad sounds like it could exist within a classic coming-of-age film as a slow dance soundtrack to a prom-gone-wrong heartbreak. Zauner’s melancholic vocals begin sounding quiet and defeated, but her echoing harmonies soar up simultaneously with orchestral strings to reach a passionate, desperate sounding climax that is as moving as it is cinematic.
The title track from the album has a quieter, sleepier feel, opening with distorted whispers and a disjointed string of sustained chords before leading into a more settled mellow guitar arrangement. ‘Planetary Ambience’ is more experimental, warping elements of “Shoegaze” and “Dream pop” genres together to create an atmospheric alien sound inspired by the cosmos.
‘Road Head’ is a hazy earworm of a track, with a laid back sound more associated with Indie music. Zauner’s lyricism runs much deeper than the lewd subject matter, as the song actually serves as a big middle finger to someone who previously doubted her ability to make it within the music industry. Zauner explained on twitter that she wanted to echo Tammy Wynette’s defiance, who famously left her husband after he shot down her hopes of a music career, telling her to ‘”dream on, baby”. The story goes that years later, Wynette, having become one of the most successful country music stars, signed her ex-lover’s record with “dream on, baby”. Japanese Breakfast takes this symbol of rebellious determination and applies it to her own situation, crooning “dream on, baby, were his last words to me, dream on”, sweetening the song with an “I told you so” sense of satisfaction.
The range of sound within this record is in part what makes it so magical. The presence of synths is consistent and necessary throughout the album, but ‘Machinist’ sees Japanese Breakfast assume a much more futuristic, experimental form, utilising vocoder synths and extreme pitch correction in order to create an auto-tuned, robotic sound, and although this is starkly different to the rest of the production on the album, it feels organic in a song centred around a robotic love.
Soft Sounds From Another Planet charts Japanese Breakfast’s growth since her debut album Pschopomp. Zauner has created a magical soundscape, with influences drawn from space and all things alien, but she has kept her music grounded in human emotions and complexities that make it relatable to all of us here on Earth.