While not playing with her shoegaze band Little Big Leagues, Michelle Zauner did what a lot of musicians do during breaks. She made more music, spending time on songwriting exercises and bedroom experimentation. Released under the name Japanese Breakfast, the recordings showed a lot of promise, all of which is realized in full on her first widely released album, Psychopomp. Produced in conjunction with Ned Eisenberg, the album has all the hallmarks of a homemade lo-fi album, but also has the feel of a wobbly '80s pop album played on a long-lost cassette. Zauner writes soaring choruses and applies her breathless vocals, and it's kind of magical. The album-opening "Heaven" conjures up thoughts of Belinda Carlisle's similarly titled song and has the kind of uplifting chorus all of Taylor Swift's acolytes would kill to be able to write. The rest of the album shifts between guitar-lashed indie rock with swooping synths ("Rugged Country"), melancholy ballads played on tear-stained keys ("Jane Cum," "Triple 7"), driving pop/rock with pumped-up hooks ("Everybody Wants to Love You"), and bass-heavy, almost painfully heartfelt indie rock ("Heft") on the way to becoming a pretty impressive coming-out party. Zauner's voice is an untrained delight at every turn; sometimes she sounds just barely in control of it, but always brings it back just in time. Working in concert with the held-together-with-tape-and-promises backing tracks, it makes for an exciting, ramshackle listening experience, especially at a time when it feels like bands, especially those with songs as catchy and warm as these, fuss with, polish, and overwork their sound until it barely sounds like humans were involved. There's none of that here; every song has its seams showing and it works very well. Zauner's songs don't need dressing up; time and again she and Eisenberg make the right choices that allow the melodies to breathe and the emotions to flow unhindered by artifice. Psychopomp is an impressive work by an artist well worth watching in the future.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra