Philadelphia-based band Little Big League recorded their first album in 2013. Soon after, the band felt creatively drained and progress came to a screeching halt. In that same period, the mother of singer/guitarist Michelle Zauner was diagnosed with cancer. Zauner then returned to her home in Oregon and began writing songs in her bedroom. As a result, three lo-fi dream pop were released under her new moniker Japanese Breakfast.
Her early sketches are rough and intimate with sharp synthesizers and piercing vocals that are simultaneously abrasive and heavenly. Her later two albums Where is My Great Big Feeling? and American Sound did not get large releases, but became underground hits through blogs and word of mouth. Come 2016, Michelle Zauner decided to revamp a collection of tracks from her first three releases as well as a few new ones for her first official full-length album.
Psychopomp is a collection of nine tracks that perfectly summarizes Zauner's home-spun evolution as Japanese Breakfast. The first thing to notice on this release is the higher quality of production. Though the recordings are not as grainy or lo-fi as her early recordings, the production still contains a homey and DIY remaining esoteric and endearing. With a clearer recording, Zauner's influences shine through brighter than ever.
Undoubtedly, Psychopomp sports a late 80's dream pop sensibility; with her delicate croon sounding close to that of the Cocteau Twins. The instrumentals are indeed much more loud and extroverted than most dream pop influences, and at times stand close to shoegaze outfits like Slowdive or Ride. Most of all, Japanese Breakfast is aesthetically and stylistically closer to the artists from the current indie pop scene on the East Coast. Zauner's exposed, heart on the sleeve writing style sounds close to her contemporary Mitski where she can talk about topics like cancer, sex and lost love without being mellow dramatic or being any less stylish. Likewise, the melodies that Japanese Breakfast clings to on this release are sound akin to twee and indie pop like Frankie Cosmos or even ambient like Foxes in Fiction.
With repeated listens, it's apparent that Michelle Zauner takes not only influence from the past and present, but also from intense emotional events in her life. With the cover of this album being an old picture of her mother, Japanese Breakfast is able to be emotionally open and honest without sacrificing pop hooks and catchy choruses. With the refinement of her previous songs and the introduction of new tracks, Psychopomp proves to be the flagship statement and the fully realized form of Japanese Breakfast.