While brought down by some high-minded ambitions, Michelle Zauner's second LP sees her adding to her already strong songwriting.Dead Oceans, 2017
7.7 / 10
Japanese Breakfast, the solo project of Philadelphia musician Michelle Zauner, basically came out of nowhere last year with Psychopomp. It was a solid grower of a record. Psychopomp balanced sturdy, mature songwriting with an array of interesting sounds and an emotional undercurrent tying it all together. Now, with a bit of buzz behind her, and after touring with other rising indie rock stars like Mitski and (Sandy) Alex G, she returns with her second album, Soft Sounds from Another Planet.
On this new record, Zauner does away with many of the more straightforward pop of the first album. Instead, she focuses on trying to create a mood through a concept that has something to with robots and technology and Auto-tune. It’s kind of a stifling idea, and the first single “The Machinist” wasn’t especially promising. Luckily, though, the strength of its songs saves Soft Sounds.
Zauner is a songwriter in the traditional sense. Solid melodies float throughout the LP, but she also knows how to weave in her own telltale flourishes. She sings and plays guitar quite distinctly. If you heard a Japanese Breakfast song in an Urban Outfitters or some shit, you would know it. Her guitar’s jangle is the main sonic touchstone she carries over from Psychopomp. Like on that album, it’s brittle and bright. On songs like opener “Diving Woman”, and “The Body is a Blade”, the guitar ushers you in. Whether it is melancholy or joyous.
There are still the big rock songs (hear: the soaring hooks of “12 Steps”). But it’s when she stretches out a little bit that things get interesting. “Boyish” follows a trend in recent indie-pop as it uses the tired “Be My Baby” beat. However, “Boyish” still manages to feel like an instant classic tune. Just listen to that chorus, “I can’t get you off my mind/ And you can’t get yours off the hostess.” The title track begins sounding like a Vampire Weekend tune, but shifts into a darker light. Zauner ekes out its chorus languorously, emphasizing each yelp. She knows her voice, she knows her strengths, and while this record’s theatrics fall a bit flat for me, I’m sure we’ll more great things from Michelle Zauner in the future.