There’s a specific lyrical choice made in Japanese Breakfast's tragic and penetrating "The Woman that Loves You" by singer/songwriter Michelle Zauner, that speaks to the larger, fragile heart of their stunning debut LP, Psychopomp:
The word “try.”
In the context of the song, this word edges its way into the chorus, suggesting: “Don’t you think? Don’t you think? You should try to do as little harm as you can/To the woman that loves you.”
It’s a heartbreaking detail. A whispered suggestion to someone not in the hopes of an end to the emotional abuse they dole out, but rather, less of it. They should “try” to make an effort. For the character in this song, the more realistic goal for her isn’t liberation from this man, but rather settling for a finer grit of sandpaper on her psyche. One that she can live with.
Psychopomp is rich with such detail, in rivers of narrative that stretch from feeling lost in relationships that are out-of-focus, to the weariness caused by years of a partner’s casual cruelty slowly grinding away at your patience.
In “The Woman that Loves You,” Zauner is embarrassed, upset that she’s let this relationship push her boundaries inward tighter and tighter, like a dog trapped in the backseat of a stalled out car: “You’re embarrassing me,” She confesses. “With a postponed marriage and this stalled out car/Then you leave me in the back/With half a window rolled down/Like a dog/Like a dog in the summer heat.”
Listening to this song, you can’t help but think that with all of her anger notwithstanding, she’s never once verbalized her plea for all of this to stop. Thought about it plenty of times for sure, but never out loud. Never to his face.
As the song winds down amidst a sea of frosty blue synthesizers, choral guitars, galloping drums and pulsating bass from the evocative performances of Ned Eisenberg, Nick Hawley-Gamer, Colin Redmond & Peter Bradley, the couple finds themselves “gazing out for better things,” knowing that they’re both reaching the end of the proverbial road. But perhaps they’ll give it one last chance. Or at least, they’ll try.
Psychopomp by Japanese Breakfast is available for purchase though Bandcamp and streaming for subscribers to Spotify, Pandora & iHeartRadio.