Japanese Breakfast with Mannequin Pussy and The Spirit of the Beehive

Music

Japanese Breakfast with Mannequin Pussy and The Spirit of the Beehive

A vivid world of experimental pop

“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.

A punk rock band whose music is emotionally raw but leaves room for emotions other than rage, Mannequin Pussy are also an example of that rare phenomenon, a band that moved away from New York City to make its mark. Mannequin Pussy were formed in 2013 by Marisa Dabice (vocals and guitar) and Thanasi Paul (guitar), who had been friends since they were children. The two began making music as a duo, but after moving to Philadelphia as they began refining their sound, they became a trio with the addition of drummer Drew Adler. The band released a debut album in 2013, Gypsy Pervert, also known as GP. The album received positive press in the indie-punk media, which attracted the attention of independent punk label Tiny Engines Records, who reissued Gypsy Pervert in 2014. Mannequin Pussy hit the road, touring in support of the album, and by the time they were ready to record again, they had a new lineup. Drummer Adler was out, and along with new timekeeper Kaleen Reading, the band also added bassist Colins Regisford, also known as Bear. The four-piece edition of Mannequin Pussy cut a second album, Romantic, which was released by Tiny Engines in October 2016. The album, short but strong at under 20 minutes, received enthusiastic reviews, with critic James Rettig saying Mannequin Pussy "possess the fury of a thrashing hardcore band and the intense beating heart of something more interior, and their ability to balance both sides of that equation has only gotten stronger the further they get into their career."

Philly lo-fi punk introverts The Spirit of the Beehive blend sounds of titantic shoegaze, straight-cruising kraut-rock, and sunny slacker-pop, with idiosyncratic melodies and blasts of noise. 

 

Tuesday
October 10, 2017
8:00 PM

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