Japanese Breakfast’s sophomore album is for those who always wanted to enjoy the dream pop genre, but found it to be too much of the same. Soft Sounds From Another Planet improves upon the base of dream pop, but by including aspects from other genres, creates a truly unique atmosphere. This album is a blend of experimental pop, indie rock, and lo-fi. The ambient feelings of lo-fi give the album a space-like or cosmic vibe (appropriate in regard to the title) which perfectly contrast the occasional electric guitar solo and heavy hitting lyrics that are scattered throughout. This interesting blend works extremely well for the band and resulted in one of my favorite albums from 2017.
Taking a look exclusively at the rock side of the album, the opening track, “Diving Woman”, gives the listener an excellent idea of what is to come. While it favors the drums and bass, the lo-fi is not lost. More importantly, the track’s eerily lyrics stand out against the instrumentation. As a whole, the album’s lyrics describe a variety of relationships. Healthy, abusive, struggling, and failed – Michelle Zauner, the lead singer, leaves nothing untouched. During “Diving Woman” she describes a harsh snapshot during one of her failed relationships. She repeats the line “I want it all” which eventually switches to “You’ll have it all / We’ll have it all/ I’ll have it all” towards the end. Just as the track is a blend of different genres, the lyrics describe the balance between two sides of a relationship. Looking closer at the verses, it becomes apparent that the relationship Zauner is describing is not a healthy one.
This idea is confirmed in the following track “Road Head”. She opens the track by describing a sexual encounter during an unhealthy relationship. As unsettling as the lyrics are, the instruments contrast with a softer tone. They rely more on lo-fi and perfectly bleed into the next track “Machinist”. The following handful of tracks are heavily inspired by lo-fi. For example, “Planetary Ambience” is a lyricless, 1:17 minute long song that, to some, could be described as a “filler track”. I would argue that the track allows the listener to slow done from the harsher beginning tracks, as the next track “Soft Sounds from Another Planet” begins delicately.
The title track is another example of how Zauner pulls from the three formerly mentioned genres while mixing in lyrics of a ruined relationship. This time, Zauner examines how a partner attempts to emotionally abuse her as she struggles to free herself. At the end of the track, after a lap steel solo, Zauner’s lyrics imply that she has realized that she cannot let someone treat her like this again. I would say this is one of the more heartbreaking songs on the album. However, my favorite track, “Boyish”, is just as saddening.
“Boyish” is the story of a man who pays little attention to his significant other, and instead gives attention to a waitress at a restaurant the two are at. The lyrics are clever as they are tragic. “I can’t get you off my mind, I can’t get you off in general/ So here we are, we’re just two losers/ I want you and you want something more beautiful”. While Zauner suggests that she knows what’s going on isn’t fair to her, she struggles to give up on him (indicated by the end repetition of the line “Love me! Love me!”). Not only does this track contain expertly written lines, the instrumentation on this track is gorgeous. Beautiful orchestration and dreamy melodies remind me of something cinematic. Check out the music video for a visual representation of what I’m trying to grasp at.
Following is rock heavy, “12 Steps”. Zauner sings about how she met her husband while she was in a relationship with someone else. Sadly, the album takes a bad turn with the track “Jimmy Fallon Big!” which is the weakest on the album. It doesn’t bring anything new to what has already been presented and is easily forgettable. However, the following “The Body Is A Blade” contrast with a bass/drum heavy opening (similar to “Diving Woman”) that leads into a synthesized keyboard solo that is a stand out on the album. Zauner described in a NPR interview that this track “is about trying to figure out how to be a good person after something really terrible happens in your life. It’s about disassociating from trauma and relying on your body to physically keep pushing forward in an attempt to survive.”
Winding down to the end of the album, “Till Death” is a gorgeous, music-box-esque tune that Zauner has described as a “thank you” to a former partner. During the track, she lists of awful things, “PTSD, anxiety/ Genetic disease”, but mixed in are lines of calmness given by others, “Your embrace, healing my wounds / Teach me to breathe / Teach me to move”. The album slows down as it finishes with the tracks “This House” and the 0:40 second, instrumental closer “Here Come the Tubular Bells”.
Soft Sounds From Another Planet attempts to examine aspects of different relationships through a blend of various genres. Whether it be dealing with the death of a loved one, the excitement of a new love, or the disappointing feeling that someone is not for you, Zauner explores all aspects of relationships. She expertly does so by coupling her lyrics with lo-fi, indie rock, and experimental pop. While the lo-fi takes charge with ambient vibes, the rock is not lost or lessened. The instrumentation shines when needed, softens when necessary, while flowing with Zauner’s lyrics effortlessly. While this album is not for the lighthearted, I highly recommend it.
Japanese Breakfast will be performing at Pitchfork Music Festival this year. Check them out on Sunday, July 22nd.