Japanese Breakfast on “Soft Sounds From Another Planet”

Magic and Loss

Sep 21, 2017 Issue #61 - Grizzly Bear
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Everyone's death grief model is unique. Kübler-Ross, the best known model, rarely encompasses its depth in the long term. There's no manual in place for such a cataclysmic life event. For Michelle Zauner, who essentially is the Philadelphia based Japanese Breakfast, her first album Psychopomp tackled the subject in a fairly straightforward manner after her mother's death. She never intended to use it as a marketing device, but interviewers caught on to the themes, and she found it to be therapeutic for her to discuss. On her second album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Zauner retreated to science fiction themes as a device to cope with her ongoing grief.

"I'd been taking care of my mother while she was dying, and that informed the first record," says Zauner. "This one provided time and distance, as it had been a year and a half since her death, but it's still there for sure. I used science fiction converged with those feelings this time. It was cathartic for me."

The album conjures a soft-hewn, Technicolor sci-fi milieu, with synths gurgling and saxophones rumbling, as if Blade Runner's score had been removed of the corpuscle and doom, while other tracks are firmly rooted in hushed acoustic, troubadour mode. The cooly-detached, mechanized "Machinist," which chronicles the love between a robot and a human, was the entry point, and it spun off in myriad directions of grief and yearning. It, like the rest of this superb album, showcased a stunning level of self-awareness regarding her own mortality and capacity to love.

"It helped to be with my husband," says Zauner, who was married weeks before the death of her mother. "He provided me with a lot of support I hadn't received from other partners in the past."

Japanese Breakfast certainly find's Zauner on an upturn, with Soft Sounds From Another Planet being released in America on the major indie label Dead Oceans (Psychopomp was released by the small Maryland indie label Yellow K in the U.S.), and coming off a recent high profile tour with Slowdive, of whom Zauner rhapsodizes. "They were so cool. They apologized for taking so long at their soundcheck, and were just the nicest people. The stages and rooms were so big, and I just love them. They're a great band."

Part of leaving herself so vulnerable has led Asian-Americans to reach out to the Korean-American Zauner, who wants to encourage more to become involved in music. "I've been amazed at how many letters have been sent to me by Asian-Americans who identify with me," she says. "That makes me feel good about leaving myself so open."

Zauner worked with producer Jorge Elbrecht of Violens, who's also produced Ariel Pink and Tamryn, to mix the album, along with Craig Hendrix, who produced Zauner's first band Little Big League's debut. They assisted a great deal, but ultimately she personally resisted the temptation to overthink, quickly emerging with an album that's a quantum leap beyond her auspicious, well-received Japanese Breakfast debut, released in early 2016.

"Yeah, I felt pressure," she admits. "But I made it quickly with people I trusted and let my emotions come through naturally, even when I felt disassociated at times. I keep channeling it into producing music, thankfully."

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Summer 2017 Issue (July/August/September 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

www.michellezauner.bandcamp.com
www.twitter.com/Jbrekkie
www.facebook.com/japanesebreakfast/

 

 

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