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First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia
2125 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103
“The title Soft Sounds From Another Planet alludes to the promise of something that may or may not be there. Like a hope in something more. The songs are about human resilience and the strength it takes to claw out of the darkest of spaces.”
Michelle Zauner wrote the debut Japanese Breakfast album in the weeks after her mother died of cancer, thinking she would quit music entirely once it was done. That wasn’t the case. When Psychopomp was released to acclaim in 2016, she was forced to confront her grief. Zauner would find find herself reliving traumatic memories multiple times a day during interviews, trying to remain composed while discussing the most painful experience of her life. Her sophomore album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet, is a transmutation of mourning, a reflection that turns back on the cosmos in search of healing.
“I want to be a woman of regimen,” Zauner sings over a burbling synth on the album’s opening track “Diving Woman.” This serves as Zauner’s mission statement: stick to the routine lest you get derailed, don’t cling to the past, don’t descend. In fact, ascend to the stars; Zauner found artistic solace removed from Earth, in outer space and science fiction. “I used the theme as a means to disassociate from trauma,” she explains. “Space used as a place of fantasy.”
And yet, Soft Sounds From Another Planet isn’t a concept album. Over the course of 12 tracks, Zauner explores an expansive thematic universe, a cohesive outpouring of unlike parts structured to create a galaxy of her own design. In the instrumental “Planetary Ambience,” synths communicate the way extraterrestrials might, and on the shapeshifting single “Machinist,” which Zauner has been performing live for over a year now, she details the sci-fi narrative of a woman falling in love with a machine. “It’s pure fiction,” she explains, “But it can map onto real relationships in a relevant way.” The track, which begins with spoken-word ambience, moves into autotune ‘80s pop bliss and ends with a sultry saxophone solo, perfectly marries the experience: there’s a perceptible humanity in mechanical, bodily events.
Within its astral production, much of Soft Sounds From Another Planet stays grounded. “Road Head” is the last chest compression in attempt to resuscitate a doomed relationship, while the penultimate track “This House” is an acoustic dirge that honors Zauner’s chosen family. The baroque pop “Boyish” has a haunting, crystalline clarity that recalls the pathos of a Roy Orbison ballad, while “Body is a Blade” embraces the dark intimacy of Zauner’s Pacific Northwest heroes Elliott Smith and Mount Eerie.
With help from co-producer Craig Hendrix (who also co-produced Little Big League’s debut) and Jorge Elbrecht, (Ariel Pink, Tamaryn) who mixed the album, Zauner recontextualizes her bedroom pop beginnings, expanding and maturing her sound. The sheer massiveness of the big room production on Soft Sounds From Another Planet introduces listeners to a new Japanese Breakfast. Zauner’s familiar, capacious voice will serve as their guide.
“Your body is a blade that moves while your brain is writhing,” she sings. “Knuckled under pain you mourn but your blood is flowing.” There’s discernible pain in the phrasing, Zauner recognizing limitation, a lack of control, but then subverting the feeling, creating her own musical language for confronting trauma. Where Psychopomp introduced the world to Japanese Breakfast, Soft Sounds dives deeper. It builds space where there is none, and suggests that in the face of tragedy, we find ways to keep on living.
Originally begun as a duo between childhood friends, Marisa Dabice and Thanasi Paul, Mannequin Pussy expanded to a three-piece for their debut album, GP. Following a move to Philadelphia, the band has once again grown in numbers and strength. With the addition of Kaleen Reading on drums and Colins Regisford on bass, Mannequin Pussy are now a quartet for their sophomore full-length, Romantic. Once again a Mannequin Pussy full-length is a perfect example of «all killer, no filler» as Romantic clocks in at less than 20 minutes. And much like GP, Romantic shifts seamlessly back and forth between pop and punk rock. But, the band has refined their songwriting with Romantic. The pop hooks are bigger and sharper. The punk rock numbers are filled with even more fury. Romantic is the sound of a band hitting its stride.
the spirit of the beehive.
The Spirit of the Beehive, whose newest effort, an EP entitled You Are Arrived (But You’ve Been Cheated) seems more like a well-crafted mixtape of moments in time than a product of polished regurgitation. The title of the record itself suggests one may find themselves exactly where they belong, only to realize something is quite strange at the end of it all. The Summer of 2015 saw The Spirit of the Beehive ambitiously crossing the United States with fellow vibe titans Amanda X, while showcasing material from the aforementioned EP, as well as their debut self-titled LP (both albums were co-released by Ice Age Records and Ranch Records).
Offering a wide sonic palette within every song, pop rock rhythms and sweet melodies supporting dolefully sung detachment pair with atonal, crushingly heavy noise rock crafted perfectly to necessitate repeat listens. The Spirit of the Beehive often alter their songs live to fit the personal experience of the show itself, and such obsession with mood has proven to be one of their most prevalent strengths.
First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia
2125 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19103