What originally began as a side project from her punk band Little Big League has become a powerful creative force in its own right for Michelle Zauner. Psychopomp , the first full-length release from Zauner’s one-woman project, Japanese Breakfast, juggles spacy soundscapes with insistent, driving grooves. For the most part, the record pulls off this balancing act seemingly effortlessly and with style. Case in point, the album’s opening track, “In Heaven”, which is one of its finest. The track’s colourful electronic backbeat, Zauner’s melodic vocal style and ambient synthesizers all come together effectively. The insistence of the bass guitar and kit-work on this track and the album as a whole is refreshing. We’ve all heard albums where ambiance is used as an excuse for a lack of progression or energy. Here, Japanese Breakfast manage to have their (pan)cake and eat it too; the electronic sounds are employed in a considered manner, but there is never a lack of direction as we move through the tracks.
When non-synthesized instruments are used, however, they sometimes interject a little abruptly. The guitars on the album’s first single, “Everybody Wants to Love You” are one of the guilty parties here. The abruptness may just be that the guitars’ clarity contrasts so dramatically with the textually uniform soundscape of previous tracks, but in any case, they’ve been thrown in a bit awkwardly. Not so awkward is the lo-fi introduction to “Heft”, which provides a nice moment of complete contrast. When the synthesizers do enter on this track, they feel remarkably unforced. The album is short at under 35 minutes, but it finishes leaving us satisfied with the cocktails of electronic, garage rock and lyrical vocals that it has served up.