Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds From Another Planet (Dead Oceans)

This is a science fiction story, but it doesn’t go the way science fiction stories usually do. There are no star-sized spaceships, absurdly futuristic outfits, colourful lasers sounding like synths cutting through space. This is a story that could have happened here, on our own planet earth, it’s just that it didn’t. This story didn’t happen here on earth, it happened lightyears away, fourty million twelve hundred seventen lightyears in fact. That’s the way things go in this universe of ours, with its countless planets in as countlessly many galaxies, each brimming with the chance of life which has manifested itself in another countless subset, playing out endless permutations of possible ways things could have gone – and even though ‘countless’ and ‘endless’ here are used metaphorically, some of those possibilities eerily resemble the possible world we actually live in.

It’s a story, then, of love, relationships, family, death. Of driving alone on a deserted highway, falling in love with a robot (remember: this isn’t happening on our planet, but it could have gone that way so easily), the destructiveness of men, of coming home.

It’s a familiar story, in a familiar setting, but – this very, very distant planet isn’t all so familiar. So tell the same tale again, repeat in your mind the tears, the wild moments, the heartbreak, the friendships, the funeral and the peace, except now it is happening on this very, very distant planet that is so strikingly similar to ours, so much that you wouldn’t know the difference. And now, what we’ve got is not an age-old tale of love and death, but a real science fiction story. Do you notice the differences? Do you see now, that when our heroine is driving alone on a highway, fast, the light that touches her car is a wholly different light? Do you see that her love for a robot turns out not to be surprising after all, since the endless sea of possibilities of space cannot surprise us at all once we’ve surpassed the limits of our imagination? Do you see, now, that death is a wholly different extra-terrestial death, and love a different love? (Or, I can’t help but wonder, are love and death, even there, yet the same?). And think again: if, to-morrow, you would wake up on that very, very distant planet, what would you know? You would say – I’m sure of this – you would think: “I don’t know how it happened / Was it always this way, and I just couldn’t see it?”.

Of course, after a while, the dissimilarities become visible, even though you’ll never be able to put them into words. But doesn’t the water taste different, doesn’t the colour red shine like gold, doesn’t every word that every person (?) utters sound, well, just a bit funny, like it’s a dream you could as well wake up from. And maybe that is, at least partly, the point: that for some reason, we fallible human beings attach incredibly more importance to what happens on our floating space-ball than on any other floating space-ball, wherever they may be, because we have the illusion that whereas in space everything could happen, and therefore almost everything does happen, in which case anything hardly matters, we have the illusion that here that law of nature and statistics does not hold, that our events and experiences are unique. And therefore, simply transporting an earthly story to an imaginary fictional planet is liberating. This is not escapism; the story is not deserted but subverted. In other words, it’s putting things in perspective, albeit a galactical one.

And now that’s done – now you’ve all got the message, to the point of being obvious – I can break the spell and say what you could have expected: these soft sounds from another planet are not from another planet at all. It’s Japanese Breakfast, or Michelle Zauner, who’s made them, and this story has happened here on earth after all, that human-robot love really was a bit grotesque, that deserted highway indeed as lonely as it seemed, and the water and the light and the voices weren’t extraordinary at all, but we’ve got a great capacity to trick ourselves and each other, through music and through words. So great, in fact, that when in the end the bells ring and we go home, we still have the feeling that the earth under our feet has started listening to us.

-- Caspar Jacobs, July 28, 2017