MAGNET’s #11 Album Of 2017: Japanese Breakfast’s “Soft Sounds From Another Planet”

Michelle Zauner is a firm believer in love; it was woven tightly into the fabric of Psychopomp, the brilliant 2016 outing by Japanese Breakfast. That LP took shape while she cared for her terminally ill mother, transforming various sorts of grief into uplifting and ebullient synthpop. While Psychopomp showed that pure devotion is bigger than any one of us, Japanese Breakfast’s equally strong follow-up outlines how the only thing keeping us from intimacy is ourselves. Soft Sounds From Another Planet shimmers in stylistically varied sounds, from opening krautrock pulsar “Diving Woman” to closing acoustic ballad “This House.” Each song is a different vignette, with communication—and a lack thereof—being a common thread. Sure, “Machinist” is on its surface a bizarro sci-fi story about a woman falling for a robot, but it’s also about coping with cold emotional distance. The strings on “Boyish” score a sad tale of lovers drifting apart, while torch song “Till Death” finds them rekindled, ruminating on the ties that bind. Zauner’s strength is songwriting that’s unflinchingly honest and vulnerable. On Soft Sounds, it pairs with some of the year’s most gripping playing and production, and Japanese Breakfast once again has us contemplating our experience with heartache and seeing hope within. —John Vettese