Japanese Breakfast - Soft Sounds from Another Planet
American poet Stephen Crane wrote, “A man said to the universe: ‘Sir, I exist!’, ‘However,’ replied the universe, ‘This fact has not created in me a sense of obligation.’” This lonely spirituality of human exceptionalism is storied in Japanese Breakfast’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet, American musician Michelle Zauner’s loosely space-stylised collection of healing cine-poems.
Things move fast in the space age. No sooner we’ve sat down in the auto-tuned hard chair of ‘Machinist’s dancing-boots synth-pop, we’re evacuated into the dizzy fuzzed-out ‘Boyish’, sprawled out all over the sofa. The 1970s grew increasingly wary of its earth-bound future, but nothing was quite as alone and quite as sad as the decade’s standout feature, Karen Carpenter’s voice, here lovingly hairbrush-microphoned by Zauner in front of her bedroom mirror. The title track’s heart is steadfast (“I’ll never let you hug me”), while this track’s heart flails a little (“If you don’t like how I look then leave”). Our hearts melt at the chorus, then melt again at the twangy guitar. They’re both just too lovely. Music’s most guarded secret of easy listening sometimes being the best listening is betrayed, and we’re counterintuitively warned that following genres is more bother than it’s worth. Zauner’s on-off band Little Big League recorded a bit more wonky but just as fantastic indie rock version in 2014.
If space is the tangential plot, life’s time-limited struggle is the story. What it means to be human, what it means to live, and what it means are die, are chewed over in ‘Till Death’. From a lullabyic opening, Zauner’s agile voice is its most fragile and most targeted, piercing as cleanly as space debris piercing a space station at twice orbital speed. A visceral lesson on music’s definitional nuts and bolts: different vocalisations producing different emotional responses, one emotional response connected to another to form a narrative in sound. And the symphony hall-sized string section filling this track? Wow. Somehow Zauner and co-producer Craig Hendrix play the album’s every instrument (special mention to the absolutely ravishing pop sax).
Japanese Breakfast’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet is a quite strange album in its way, one that rewards a real investment of attention. And there’s something sublime, a little nervous even, in its palliative loveliness as it falls through space and time into, an optimistically brighter, future.
Get your space boots on and buy Soft Sounds from Another Planet right now.