Love can be anything. Soft Sounds From Another Planet is Japanese Breakfast’s (real name Michelle Zauner) follow-up to Psychopomp, a diary of regret and mourning in the wake of her mother’s death that retains a – not incongruous – musical buoyancy, as it also celebrates her relationship with her partner, whom she married before her mother went into a coma. Psychopomp ponders how love moulds the contours of our emotional lives, whether it’s casting a shadow or striking a match. It’s a deeply personal album, almost a monologue of sorts. Soft Sounds From Another Planet initially sounds far more celestially concerned, fixated on Important Questions of cosmic purpose, but these are ideas sown and fixed in Psychopomp’s introspection. Over repeated listens, the former evolves into a touching meditation on love’s complexity and erraticism, where introspection intercedes the Big Important Questions.

Love can be mercurial and random. The paired ‘Roadhead’ and ‘Machinist’ are by accounts surreal and funny, the first a frisky euphemism – aligning funnelling gas with oral sex – and the second an uncanny sci-fi novella – falling in love with a machine – which raise eyebrows over how fundamentally silly sex can be. Sex is also utilitarian, as ‘Roadhead’ is a power reclamation, dragging through the dirt the sleazy ex who claimed Zauner had no future in music. And it’s also problematic, as both songs profess the viable disconnect innate to sexual grammar; the former describes the futility in resuscitating a dying relationship through “wild” experiments, the latter diagnoses the coldness and sterility that can subsist in even the most meaningful external connection, which can be disguised as hacked-off intimacy. The dissonance of the instrumentation – particularly the Duran Duran/New Romantics vibes glistening off ‘Machinist’ (with that zonking sax outro) – underscores love’s opacity, as fun as it is forlorn. Both songs advise that there’s no algorithm which captures love. It’s not quantifiable or lucid, but alien and unknowable. The grand sci-fi textures on ‘Machinist’ and the title track are proxies for our searching the stars for meaning to the most interior and human of problems.

Love can be agonising, inhibiting, and disappointing. This manifests as a ballad of spectacular heartbreak in the Roy Orbison-channelling ‘Boyish’, the swelling chorus simultaneously celebrating and subverting pop music’s romanticism; “I can't get you off my mind/ I can't get you off in general.” The male figure here is sexually impotent, but so is the idea of their love. Zauner deprecates as her “devotion turns violent,” commenting that “lack of inhibition works wonders in revealing every demon.” Love which promises so much often limps into feeble ignominy, something also alluded to on the title track and ‘Roadhead’. ‘This House’ explores more acutely the danger of sentimentalising and projection. With acoustic guitar hues Zauner queries “Did you ever even love her?/ Or was it rooted in companionship and timing.” Nostalgic filters contort our memories of what-could-have-beens – who hasn’t tortuously reminisced over key scenes Where It All Went Wrong? – whereas reality generally unravels the romantic incompatibility quickly, signifying the inevitability of failure. Yet ‘This House’ assumes a voice of sensitivity, not condescension, legitimising the mood of disappointment and wistfulness. The counsel here is that the pain of love can be theatrical and overblown, but that theatricality doesn’t invalidate the sensation of pain. Again the musical polyamory denotes the infinitude of love’s indexes, as the delightedly Motown orchestrations in ‘Boyish’ and the singer-songwriting scarcity of ‘This House’ are decided outliers. Even abject love is complicated.

Love can be supportive and redemptive. ‘Body Is A Blade’ – which I’ve revisited habitually since first hearing the record – belongs in the canon of great coping songs. Streaks of sunlight peer through stormclouds in Real Estate-y guitars and winning Juno 6 keyboards, with Zauner promising that “your body is a blade that carves a path from day to day.” It’s a modest observation that stresses the significance of small steps and minor gestures of physical self-empowerment against the tidal wave of everyday living following trauma or upheaval. Probably the most direct address of lovelorn grief as a permanent force, it recommends the visceral antidote of other love. Pillared by the care system of her partner, Zauner finds the strength to move on in ‘Till Death’. Immediately succeeding ‘Body Is A Blade’, the song transpires as a humble lullaby with easy synths and rhetorical requests, but its sequencing instils it with breathtaking, earnest affection; “Your embrace, healing my wounds/ Teach me to breathe, teach me to move.” Nearly an album’s cataloguing of mercurial, disappointing, and inhibiting relationships gives way to a love that fulfils.

Love can be dreadful and it can be wonderful. Psychopomp evoked the torment of love tested, but Soft Sounds is genuinely hopeful. Love’s grief subsists – as it always will – but it’s manageable, thanks largely to love’s inverse qualities of sustenance and the facility to provide meaning. ‘Here Comes The Tubular Bells’ is the perfect closer for this dichotomy; a brief instrumental that’s melancholic and brooding, but so quietly hopeful.

Love can be anything. But all love ends in sadness. Whether it’s by the hysteria of a shrieking break-up, by the mutual consciousness of intimacy’s fading, or by the unutterable finale. All love ends in sadness, but through a tenderly lyrical portrait of Zauner’s partner, Soft Sounds recognises why we persist with love. Love is worthwhile, and love is human.