“This house is full of women,” murmurs Michelle Zauner on ‘This House’, “playing guitar, cooking breakfast, sharing trauma, doing dishes. And where are you?” Her cadence forms the words in a blur. Her voice breaks through when a moment of rage takes her, but aching absence is the overwhelming feeling.
The same pensiveness could be heard throughout even the chirpiest moments of her last album, when her mind was undoubtedly on the recent death of her mother. Little time has passed since then, and that experience still lives with her on here. What began as a concept album, framed as a sci-fi musical, has opened up into personal, raw territory. Zauner is pulling from older songs that predate Japanese Breakfast, here, and with the past colouring much of the album’s mood, it’s fitting to hear her perform old thoughts with new vigour.
What the album nails is this mood, rightly thrusting Zauner’s persona to the forefront. But many of its songs feel too similar compositionally to translate the weight of their subject. ‘Boyish’, ‘Sounds from Another Planet’ and ‘Till Death’ are all stinging narratives, but they circle around melodies that flatten when they begin to imitate each other. There are highlights, like the slinky, dreamlike ‘Road Head’; Zauner puts down her guitar several times throughout the album and embraces the life of a replicant. At other times, it unfortunately feels even more like a copy of a copy.