There’s something about failed sci-fi musicals that seemingly inspires an artist’s best work. Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo is perhaps the most famous example of this phenomenon, scrapping an entire space opera entitled Songs From The Black Hole before he crafted what is, perhaps, the most fervently beloved disaffected freak-out album of all time with his band’s sophomore record Pinkerton. It’s tough to say if trying and failing to present his emotional crisis through a cosmic context was instrumental to Pinkerton’s eventual inception, but with Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner has now attempted the same, before winding up with her stunning, spectral new album Soft Sounds From Another Planet, and the pattern is seemingly proving itself to be a rule.
While initially born out of creative curiosity, the pre-planned thematic setting for her follow-up to 2016’s breakthrough Psychopomp also served as Zauner’s method to avoid singing further about her mother’s death after that event defined her breakout album’s narrative. Yet, she found herself stifled by the creative limitations, and realized she couldn’t just convince herself not to write about what was on her mind; her mother was, of course, still present in her thoughts, and so was all the rest she’s gone through emotionally in the years since her passing.
She lifted her strict adherence to what she originally envisioned as a tragic love story between woman and robot, and freed from her self-imposed constraints, set out to express further her relationship with the trauma of the years surrounding Psychopomp, an album where she said she was “so consumed by my own vulnerability and what I had endured,” with new perspective.
And while I’d love to hear what Zauner’s Pinkerton would sound like, it’s clear there’s no chance she’ll be writing it anytime soon. In spite of the difficulty of her recent past, Zauner’s contextualized those experiences and moved beyond them in an improbably healthy way. Doing so, she’s made something far more compelling than a jagged, unstable panic. Soft Sounds From Another Planet is about the process of stripping from your tragedies their power to punish you, or as she puts in her own words: “The album is a lot about thinking of your pain or the circumstances of your life more objectively.”