Soft Sounds from Another Planet by Japanese Breakfast

Release date: July 14, 2017
Label: Dead Oceans

I first came across the music of Japanese Breakfast no later than last May, swept from my feet and spellbound by the bands’ saccharine melodies, dreamy sound textures and all-around captivating performance in opening for Slowdive. However, despite the short time-span between the bands’ first two records, I left the venue that particular night with a debut album that, upon first listen, seemed to capture but a mere half of the experience I came to witness that evening, the reason being that a fair share of the bands’ setlist had consisted in songs from this as-of-then unreleased sophomore effort.

Surely enough, my suspicions were to be confirmed a few months down the line; musically and production-wise, Soft Sounds from Another Planet certainly does set itself apart Psychopomp, namely through a greater attention to ambience and flow. For starters, this new album pulls back on the hazy layerings that gave the debut album a somewhat murky, cavernous quality, opting this time for more clarity and precision, namely for Michelle Zauner, whose talent and character as a vocalist are finally given the focus they deserve in the mix. With tracks like ‘Boyish’ and ‘Soft Sounds from Another Planet’, Michelle hits us with some of her most striking and articulate performances yet, lulling us with the sweetness of her voice and moving us with the fragile intimacy of her melodies.

Whereas the bands’ debut record had its share of dynamic rises, the key-term I would use to define this album as a whole would be “steady-paced”; most of the songs, namely ‘Diving Woman’, ‘Road Head’ and ‘The Body Is a Blade’, are paved by the even rhythm of locked drum grooves, on top of which the band lay their clean guitars and smooth soundscapes. SSfAP makes for a very easy listening experience, though that is not to say that Japanese Breakfast have given us a monotonous, dull record, quite on the contrary: the band shows a fair share of diversity throughout the album’s 12 tracks, ranging from the likes of dream pop to shoegaze and brooding folk tunes – not unlike those by Cat Power or Emma Ruth Rundle – on the records’ title track or on ‘This House’. Perhaps the most surprising number on the track listing is the records’ first single, ‘Machinist’, a retro-futuristic synth pop track complete with electronic beats, robotic auto-tuned vocals and an epic sax solo that brings the track to a regrettably premature and abrupt close. The track ‘Boyish’ also stands out as a fruitful stylistic venture, a lovely waltzing number that will lift you off your feet on a pink cloud, away from your worldly worries and woes and into the warm embrace of idyllic love.

Soft Sounds From Another Planet is as consistent as one can hope for, elegantly tied together into a peaceful flow of songs that wash over your senses and reel you into its world like the irresistible voice of mermaids. As a close follow-up to Psychopomp, Japanese Breakfast’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet leaves no room for redundancies and spares no time in taking the bands’ sound into new territory, slowly but surely unveiling the extent of their creativity with unsuspected ease. When faced with a sophomore record of this caliber, one can only begin surmise at what the future holds in store for such promising young talent.

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