Japanese Breakfast’s latest release, “Soft Sounds from Another Planet,” generates an abundance of relaxing vibes. It’s one of the most interesting albums of the summer. Japanese Breakfast is the solo project of Little Big League’s Michelle Zauner, started in 2016. While they maintain the rock sound from their first album “Psychopomp,” there is a considerably more tempered tone to the newest release. Even the lyrics of the songs express a feeling of letting their hair down and just letting the music guide them. Where songs from the previous album “Psychopomp” like “Everybody Wants to Love You” garner feelings of the reckless abandon of youth, songs such as “Till Death” and the title track are written and composed with an extreme amount of care and thought to cultivate a tender sound.
A standout track is “Diving Woman.” This track features wobbly synths layered on top of a simplistic drum and bass pair, along with Zauner’s vocals. The song, though short on lyrics, seems to be a tribute to the diving women of Jeju, traditionally called haenyeo. In the province of Jeju the tradition of diving for things like abalone has been dominated by women in the region since the 18th century. Since that time, the local culture of Jeju has shifted toward a matriarchal dynamic since so many of the haenyeo and their families depended on them for their household income rather than their husbands. These women and their dedication to the Jeju diving tradition are so important to Korea’s history that they petitioned UNESCO to add haenyeo to their list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. However, the number of haenyeo are dwindling due to the growing agricultural industry which makes preservation of their process and history that much more important. While it seems irrelevant to a review of the album, it is significant in that Zauner holds her Korean heritage close to her heart. In an interview with Teen Vogue after the album was released, Zauner recounted that growing up and trying to maintain a connection to her heritage was difficult, because the main point of Western interest in Asia seemed to always be Japan—leaving little or no room for Korean-Americans like her. Therefore she tries to be more vocal about her heritage in tracks like this, and videos like the one for “Everybody Wants to Love You,” where she performs in a hanbok while everyone is dressed in typical American casual.
This exploration of the genres of lo-fi, indie pop, indie rock and experimental pop proves to be a fruitful endeavor. The album offers a refreshing take on more obscure genres and gives them a more defined sound. The cover artwork evokes the sunny, golden imagery of a new world that promises an adventure. Orange panels and shadowy silhouettes of their lead singer Michelle Zauner bring about the imagery of an endless night; in alone with your own daydreams. “Soft Sounds from Another Planet” is ideal for anyone who is interested in branching out into new sounds or wants to listen to emerging artists who have little exposure as of now.