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Soft sounds: Japanese Breakfast's intimate dream pop

Michelle Zauner performs at Hi-Ho Lounge Sept. 13



Michelle Zauner's four albums in the past five years — two as the raw, excitable frontwoman for Philadelphia's Little Big League and two expansive-yet-introspective solo releases as Japanese Breakfast — are like different siblings from the same family, clearly related but with barely a resemblance. The divide occurred in 2016, when the illness and subsequent death of Zauner's mother spurred a move home to Oregon and an unavoidable reckoning with her grief. Debut Psychopomp (Yellow K) addresses the loss in devastating detail ("The dog's confused / She just paces around all day, she's sniffing at your empty room") and provides valuable distraction in the form of ephemeral, reverie-refracted pop music. July follow-up Soft Sounds From Another Planet (Dead Oceans) is among the most complex and rewarding records of the year, a summer-record anomaly telescopic in sound and microscopic in focus. Opening troika "Diving Woman," "Road Head" and "Machinist" touches on matriarchal history, sexual intimacy and literal and figurative space with a sonic palette of droning krautrock, dead-serious "Baker Street" sax solos and alluring dream pop. Zauner's voice is the one constant, at once husky and delicate, processed and organic, able to adapt to whatever a song asks of her. It's such affecting stuff that a trip to her Twitter feed — where she shares hilarious observations such as "I had a nightmare Rihanna was mad at me and it was the worst stress dream of my life" — may be required to decompress. Mannequin Pussy and The Spirit of the Beehive open. Tickets $12-$15.

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