This would probably have been written several days sooner, but I was trying to be so careful getting inside the thoughtful wrapping from Yellow K Records. Sadly of course I buggered that up about halfway through, the sound of yellow tissue paper giving way under my clumsy thumbs making the most heartbreaking sound. Ah well, it was a really cool thing to do, and helps to further the notion that this whole music thing isn’t just abut sales and competition, it’s about wanting to share a bit of creativity in so many different ways. Anyway.
Michelle Zauner is no stranger to these pages fronting Little Big League, whose two albums (These Are Good People and Tropical Jinx) both made my Top 10s for their respective years and remain firm favourites at 6dft Towers. Her Japanese Breakfast project is a lot more personal, her work under this name thus far dealing with at first impending and then resulting grief, but it’s far from sad music. She (with the help of friends) hits her subjects and feelings head-on, using the words to put things in order and leaving the music free to make its own way out and about. Psychopomp expands on all of this, bringing new life to a few songs from her previous two Japanese Breakfast releases and adding some more to come up with one of the most captivating records I’ve heard in some time.
She opens with In Heaven, a song that encapsulates everything that the record is about. A song about a distressed dog and equally distressed narrator, this would be utterly devastating if it wasn’t for the beautiful backing. Much of Psychopomp’s pallette is drawn from a host of indie from the 1980s and early 90s, bringing a whole host of widely (and inexplicably) underused wider influences to the fore as well as making the album sound both unique and familiar at once. 4AD’s catalogue looms large and lovely, but here’s all sorts going on in here – In Heaven alone encapsulates an entire genre of swishy and barbed pop delights free of expectation and convention with its big ideas, big harmonies and big strings, that gives way to The Woman That Loves You that marries Strawberry Switchblade to The Chameleons, which in turn is followed by the magnificent hooks chorus hook of Rugged Country. Three songs there which are better than most entire careers.
The mood changes for Side 2, although it’d be unfair to say that it darkens – it’s just a bit more intense, exemplified by Heft, the song which opened JB’s Where Is My Great Big Feeling? debut and is absolutely crushing in terms of sentiment with its “Fuck it all” refrain, and Jane Cum’s head-first plunge into My Bloody Valentine territory of noise and beauty, featuring an incredible vocal performance. This side is broken up by two instrumentals: the title track which scrapes fingernails across the emotions; and Moon In the Bath which calms them right down again before closing the record with the composed Triple 7.
This is an utterly fearless record. Unafraid to expose each ragged and raw nerve with every word, and turning the grieving process into something shared by making it such a contradictory joy to listen to. This is an absolutely one-of-a-kind record and I can’t go on long enough about how good it is or how much it gets under my skin. It’s a record that shows other records what they should be doing, and I absolutely love it. The record’s title gives it a very specific purpose, I hope it worked for all concerned and for everyone else who decides to give listening to it a go.
Available from Japanese Breakfast’s Bandcamp.