LVL Up, Radiator Hospital
Wed, May 30
Doors: 7:00 pm
“The title Soft Sounds From Another Planet alludes to the promise of something that may or may not be there. Like a hope in something more. The songs are about human resilience and the strength it takes to claw out of the darkest of spaces.”
Michelle Zauner wrote the debut Japanese Breakfast album in the weeks after her mother died of cancer, thinking she would quit music entirely once it was done. That wasn’t the case. When Psychopomp was released to acclaim in 2016, she was forced to confront her grief. Zauner would find find herself reliving traumatic memories multiple times a day during interviews, trying to remain composed while discussing the most painful experience of her life. Her sophomore album, Soft Sounds From Another Planet, is a transmutation of mourning, a reflection that turns back on the cosmos in search of healing.
“I want to be a woman of regimen,” Zauner sings over a burbling synth on the album’s opening track “Diving Woman.” This serves as Zauner’s mission statement: stick to the routine lest you get derailed, don’t cling to the past, don’t descend. In fact, ascend to the stars; Zauner found artistic solace removed from Earth, in outer space and science fiction. “I used the theme as a means to disassociate from trauma,” she explains. “Space used as a place of fantasy.”
And yet, Soft Sounds From Another Planet isn’t a concept album. Over the course of 12 tracks, Zauner explores an expansive thematic universe, a cohesive outpouring of unlike parts structured to create a galaxy of her own design. In the instrumental “Planetary Ambience,” synths communicate the way extraterrestrials might, and on the shapeshifting single “Machinist,” which Zauner has been performing live for over a year now, she details the sci-fi narrative of a woman falling in love with a machine. “It’s pure fiction,” she explains, “But it can map onto real relationships in a relevant way.” The track, which begins with spoken-word ambience, moves into autotune ‘80s pop bliss and ends with a sultry saxophone solo, perfectly marries the experience: there’s a perceptible humanity in mechanical, bodily events.
Within its astral production, much of Soft Sounds From Another Planet stays grounded. “Road Head” is the last chest compression in attempt to resuscitate a doomed relationship, while the penultimate track “This House” is an acoustic dirge that honors Zauner’s chosen family. The baroque pop “Boyish” has a haunting, crystalline clarity that recalls the pathos of a Roy Orbison ballad, while “Body is a Blade” embraces the dark intimacy of Zauner’s Pacific Northwest heroes Elliott Smith and Mount Eerie.
With help from co-producer Craig Hendrix (who also co-produced Little Big League’s debut) and Jorge Elbrecht, (Ariel Pink, Tamaryn) who mixed the album, Zauner recontextualizes her bedroom pop beginnings, expanding and maturing her sound. The sheer massiveness of the big room production on Soft Sounds From Another Planet introduces listeners to a new Japanese Breakfast. Zauner’s familiar, capacious voice will serve as their guide.
“Your body is a blade that moves while your brain is writhing,” she sings. “Knuckled under pain you mourn but your blood is flowing.” There’s discernible pain in the phrasing, Zauner recognizing limitation, a lack of control, but then subverting the feeling, creating her own musical language for confronting trauma. Where Psychopomp introduced the world to Japanese Breakfast, Soft Sounds dives deeper. It builds space where there is none, and suggests that in the face of tragedy, we find ways to keep on living.
After a small mountain of tape releases, EPs and a couple more official albums, Philly punk romantics Radiator Hospital offer their most fully formed statement to date with new album Play The Songs You Like .Titles like "Pastoral Radio Hit", "Long Distance Dedication" and "Dance Number" hint at a through-line of thought for the album, a collection of songs not only about how songs themselves affect our lives, but how the same song can mean wildly different things to different people and how that meaning can change over time.
It's fitting that this album observes how songs track major shifts and growth, as it marks a huge upward move for Radiator Hospital in terms of both production and collaboration. The band started as the solo vehicle for Sam Cook-Parrott's lovelorn hissy bedroom recordings, and evolved slowly over the years into a hybrid of those lo-fi beginnings and an increasingly more stable full-band line up. Recorded by studio magician Jeff Zeigler (War On Drugs, Mary Lattimore, Kurt Vile) PTSYL features a completely locked-in Radiator Hospital projecting in high definition. Singer/guitarist Cook-Parrott, along with guitarist/singer Cynthia Schemmer, drummer Jeff Bolt and bassist Jon Rybicki rip through 16 melodic blasts of devotion, yearning, and reflection on the songs in the background that shape our worlds.
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001