Monday, April 4, 2016

Japanese Breakfast, Psychopomp, 2016

Album Review

by Allyson Dwyer

A few weeks ago CoolDad sent me a link to the Soundcloud for Japanese Breakfast (a project of Michelle Zauner, previously of Philadelphia's Little Big League), and I promptly lost my shit. I guess my music tastes are predictable but again for those who may have forgotten, it has been given an official label in the past: "that sad dreamy shit" (credit to Scott LaRock).

I knew from the few tracks I heard that I had a new band to follow. And Japanese Breakfast's newest full length, Psychopomp, exceeded all of my expectations. At just 25 minutes, it is such a fully realized, tightly produced piece of art. And it's easy to listen all the way through, just to start all over again from the beginning. Why have a Netflix binge when you can re-listen to this 10 times in a row?

Through many reviews I've read of Psychopomp, I've learned that the album is a response to the passing of Zauner's mother. It's an album of grief, but through the personal lens of Zauner and how she is processing it. Many songs clearly do not have a direct line to her mother's passing -- as they stray to topics of sexuality, isolation and self-doubt -- but the original catalyst for the album always looms in the background.

That general overtone of sadness and mourning creeps in and out in the lyrics and music. The album's opener "In Heaven," is quite a bait-and-switch -- because it just feels like the perfect shoegaze song to drive-around to. In fact, I was driving when I heard it, and I couldn't help but bop along. But returning to the lyrics, you find such heartbreaking lines as "Oh do you believe in heaven? / Like you believed in me / Oh it could be such heaven / If you believed it was real."

One of the album's highlights is its natural, river-like flow. Songs bleed into one another in such a way as to again suggest that everything in grief is interconnected. "In Heaven" into "The Woman That Loves You," and "Pyschopomp" into "Jane Cum" are my two personal favorite moments of the entire album. "Jane Cum" may also be my favorite track. It has been since my first listen.

Beyond the circumstances, the album also points towards Zauner's pop-writing sensibilities. "Everybody Wants To Love You," which was originally written by Birthday Girlz (another band of Zauner's), is just a little over two minutes long, but it has an extremely memorable chorus (and some backing vocals from Radiator Hospital's Sam Cook-Parrott). "Heft" is a stand-out track, a hybrid of rock and pop that I could easily hear being played on the radio.

I kind of don't want to gush too much, but let's just say I demanded that CoolDad let me write this review. And now, as I write it, I find myself unable to really articulate what it is about the music -- beyond, "yeah, it's my 'thing'" -- that drew me in. But sometimes you just hear something. It clicks, and you just sense something within it that speaks your language. Which explains why the 25 minutes fly by every time, and I replay it once more.

Psychopomp is out now on Yellow K Records.

Japanese Breakfast heads out on tour this month making two Brooklyn stops -- 4/14 at Silent Barn and 4/30 at Baby's All Right -- before returning to NYC with Mitski on 6/20 at Bowery Ballroom.

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