Michelle Zauner uses her solo project Japanese Breakfast as a vehicle to explore otherworldly perspectives on the relationship between life and death. While her debut LP, Psychopomp, was the result of trauma following her mother’s loss, the vulnerable Soft Sounds from Another Planet is about encountering new life after being withdrawn from the world.
The sense of yearning is immediate. On album opener “Diving Woman,” she sings of her desire to become “a woman of regimen” like the diving women from the island of Jeju, South Korea—who, as sole providers of the family, dive into the ocean to collect oysters and conch shells to sell in markets. The reverb-drenched wall of sound carries the six-minute track into the depths of the abyss.
The subsequent track, “Road Head” is hazy and ethereal, making the most of the shimmering sounds of the Juno 6 synthesizer found throughout the album. “Last stitch desperate,” she sings, touching upon former relationships that led her to sexual extremes, before realizing they would only lead to her demise. The following track, “Machinist,” is a song about a woman who falls in love with a robot. With a spoken word intro that evolves into a space-disco track, the song is meticulously layered over synthesizer harmonies and even gives us an auto tune chorus paralleling Cher’s “Believe.”
We are then led into a shiny ambient interlude with subtle sci-fi elements, transitioning well into the title track of the record. “Soft Sounds from Another Planet” is a dreamy slow dance in the cosmos, with the lap steel guitar solo giving it a retro feel. Zauner brings her voice out into the forefront. With a heavy heart, her lyrics serve as the driving force in her music. “Boyish” is a graceful transformation of the original by her former band, Little Big League and is reminiscent of 1960s jukebox classics like Brenda Lee and Roy Orbison. Zauner soars over a romantic guitar riff and melodramatic string arrangements, stabbing at her own insecurities with melancholic phrases like “I can’t get you off my mind/You can’t get yours off the hostess” and “All of my devotion turns violent/If you go to her, don’t expect to come home to me.”
“The Body is a Blade,” the highlight of the album, can only be described as a fusion of dream pop and 1990s emo. She sings ““Try your best to slowly withdraw/Your body is a blade that moves while your brain is writhing.” Zauner motivates us to dissociate ourselves from our internal demons and to keep pushing forward. Again, we are met by the lush sounds of the Juno 6, giving us the freedom to drift away in space.
Two of the last tracks of the album, “Til Death” and “This House,” serve as Zauner’s comfort in knowing that love will protect her from all her fears, even the inevitability of death. In the final seconds of the album, a resonating hum transcends into the sound of wedding bells: a moment of clarity before the end.
Japanese Breakfast’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet is an honest portrayal of Zauner’s attachment to life. The album acknowledges that even after we hit our lowest lows, we need to find the strength to survive another day.
By Emily Afre