Rising from the ashes of Philadelphia emo band Little Big League, Japanese Breakfast is the solo musical project of singer and guitarist Michelle Zauner, its sound drifting from Little Big League’s more straightforward, American Football-esque jangle into lush and pillowy soundscapes. The title of “Soft Sounds From Another Planet” is utterly appropriate, the album gently splicing together misty synths, splaying guitar lines and moments of Breeders-lite rock.
Born in Seoul, Zauner remarked that Japanese Breakfast’s name was an attempt to blend American culture and Asian exoticism, and this sense of escapism pervades the floaty eroticism of “Road Head”: “You gave road head on a turnpike exit…pump and run”. Sprawling highlight “Diving Woman” dimly evokes Swim Deep’s “Fueiho Boogie”, fittingly enough a song about the intersection of Western and Eastern culture, and the sweet ditty “Till Death” reminds of the Eels in its tinkling music-box instrumentation.
“Machinist” is probably the closest Japanese Breakfast gets to outright pop in its sugary, auto-tuned vocals and clucking funk guitar, even throwing in a saxophone solo. However, if this goes slightly overboard it is counterbalanced by the album’s tenderer moments. Opening with the “Be My Baby” beat, “Boyish” is a sweeping and romantic ballad that Japanese Breakfast pulls off surprisingly well, Zauner despairing that “All of my devotion turns violent”. It also reveals a surprising but likeable line in self-deprecating humour with the deadpan remark that “I can’t get you off my mind, I can’t get you off in general”.
However, the album more broadly struggles to distinguish itself. Zauner’s voice, while pleasant, isn’t particularly distinctive and often Japanese Breakfast sounds musically interchangeable with other dreamy, introspective bands like Beach House or Wild Nothing. Despite the talk about melding Western and Eastern sensibilities, nothing about “Soft Sounds From Another Planet” feels noticeably Asian, instead slumping into a tried-and-tested trench of American indie, from the unravelling “Undone…The Sweater Song” arpeggios of “The Body Is A Blade” to the maudlin prettiness of “This House”.
In spite of its lack of real idiosyncrasy, “Soft Sounds From Another Planet” is an attractive album, from the sleepy grandeur of “Jimmy Fallon Big!” to the gently spiralling title track. The other planet the album references in its title may not be somewhere you’d want to live, but it’s worth a visit. CO
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIqCBKT5h-Y