Japanese Breakfast was one of the last bands on the line-up of the 25th anniversary London Calling edition (yes,yours truly was there at the very first edition in 1992 as well!) in Amsterdam. I had been there since the afternoon and seen quite a number of acts already. Frankie Rose cancelling was a major disappointment, but I had at least been looking forward to Big Thief but was sadly lulled to sleep by their live rendering. Not saying there was anything bad or unoriginal, but it just wasn’t happening for me. Until Japanese Breakfast kicked off with “Diving Woman” in the small, packed, hot upstairs room of Paradiso. This is one of those rare moments in which you instantly realise “this is going to be good!“. The music is great, the performance effortless, and the stage presence is huge! Michelle Zauner (who is not of Japanese, but Korean descendance) is gorgeous, bounces around on sneakers with neon lights, and during “Machinist” she even turns into some sort of auto-tune driven Hatsune Miku, throwing herself in the midst of the audience to dance about! My friend and I were happy to notice that, off the stage, Michelle was pixie-size, like ourselves. Michelle tells us she is happy to be in Amsterdam, not only since she is amongst old friends due to the London Calling line up, but also because she had been able to meet the founder of the Mars One Project, a project that inspired to write a sci-fi concept album which she merely carried through to the single, “Machinist,” but the theme of space exploration still prevails throughout “Soft Sounds from Another Planet“. The band: the guitarist, unknown to me (Craig Hendrix?), was truly amazing, and the drummer, invisible to me, proved to be a decent singer of sorts, but unfortunately, the set was short. I guess sometimes, during festivals, that can be experienced as a bit of a deliverance, but in this case it was a shame. Japanese Breakfast are still touring the UK right now. I will remind you below, in a short recap of the last album, why you don’t wanna miss out on one of their shows!!
Tour dates UK November 2017:
11-02 Brighton, GB – The Joker
11-03 Manchester, GB – Soup Kitchen
11-04 Edinburgh, GB – The Mash House
11-05 Glasgow, GB – The Hug and Pint
11-06 Leeds, GB – Headrow House
11-07 London, GB – The Dome Tufnell Park
“Soft Sounds from Another Planet” highlights:
This opener is and remains my favourite song on the album! It has that mantric, dreamy quality than entrances us and suddenly we find ourselves underwater and gaze around in awe at bolts of feedback and bubbly sound-effects swimming by, and slowly phosphorescent endorphins are released, as subtle musical details are added along the voyage of this dive to the bottom of the ocean. This song was inspired by the Haenyeo, the Korean female divers and their lifestyle of endurance and regimen from which Michelle has drawn an analogy to her own life as a touring woman on the road…
Road Head was released as a single last summer and, apart from it being a nice feat of mesmerising electro-pop, the lyrics are a-tongue-in-cheek tale of a lop-sided relationship in which the woman resorts to some wild sexual act to save the relationship, only making herself feel worse. The video was the brainchild of Michelle herself who also directed it. No happy end for the”beast”!
Machinist was published last May and is about a woman who falls in love with a robot, which I suppose happens to all of us at some point…. 😀
The track starts out with spoken word ( “I don’t know how it happened/ Was it always this way, and I just couldn’t see it?/ Heart burning hot enough for the both of us I never realized how much you were holding back/ All the times I felt so plugged in/ You were tuning out”), then the vocaloid kicks in, giving the song a Hatsune Miku, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu vibe.
Michelle: “It started with the synth line, and I had this idea for the spoken word, and sort of like a hip-hop skit in the middle. Craig Hendrix had the brilliant idea to incorporate the vocoder harmonies. I forget who came up with the idea to do the auto-tune… I had done a cover of Cher’s “Believe” around this time, so that may have been its beginning” (NPR music). There are unexpected splashes of sophistipop towards the end, including a saxophone. Again Michelle had the biggest hand in the video production!
“Boyish” is re-imagined older demo which turned out to be a grandiose, melodramatic, orchestral Roy Orbinson-esque ballad with a surf guitar as a finishing touch. During the live show, Michelle said an added mirror-ball would have been the perfect decor for this song. Funny enough, this song is about jealousy, sexual incompetence, and feeling ugly. Amazing how feelings of ugliness can conjure up this sweeping beauty……
“The Body is a Blade”:
This song, with its hauntingly beautiful ripples of jangle, is about surviving after trauma and loss, keeping alive, moving on, using the “body as a blade” to protect the wounded soul inside. The band used a Roland Juno 6 for the fluttery keyboard sound that’s heard throughout the track. In the video, again directed by Michelle Zauner, the past and present are explored, using collages of childhood and family snapshots in Lomo tones.
” Till Death” ( Michelle’s favourite) is obviously about loss and death as well, but also carries us towards that light at the end of the tunnel…when, after all you went through, the ones that love you are still there. Michelle‘s voice here is piercingly fragile to the point of cracking, but ultimately comforted by a warm blanket of brass instruments that solemnly descend at 1:05, and turn the whole thing into release and purification at 2:15: “All our celebrities keep dying / While the cruel men continue to win /You’d reassure me in a way you only can”