Thursday, December 9th, 2021

Japanese Breakfast – Glider

Next up on Amnesty Week, we venture into the land of video games with this cut from Sable, though for many of us that’s not the draw…


Iain Mew: I used to do lots of music listening while travelling across London. These days most of it is sat at my desk, working, and I find myself turning to smaller and softer pleasures in that music. Some of that is indie video game soundtracks, or albums that sound like they could be. “Glider” is from such a soundtrack, and its synth twinkles and pinging vocal echoes offer a lot of enchanting small pleasures. I haven’t played Sable. When I listen, I instead often picture Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, a confirmed influence on the game. This may also be influenced by the fact that for the last 21 months my laptop has been propped on top of a big collection of the manga, outside the composed rectangle through which the world sees me, but almost always present in my own small spaces. The song’s small spaces don’t hold completely as it progresses. Michelle Zauner giving everything to the vocals and the joy in every particle can’t remotely be contained. “Glider” is a mirror, rather than a total contrast, to the big bold sounds of Jubilee; it reminds that there are other ways to travel, even if it is a journey inwards into contemplation as much as through the air. The specific bit of Nausicaä I picture as I listen is the second panel of the first page, the one with no border, Nausicaä and glider and boundless space. 

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Michelle Zauner’s music began in a haze of guitars and with every successive iteration has become shinier and cleaner, her songs warping from scuzzy DIY missives to lushly rendered stories of sound — just witness the change from the Little Big League to Japanese Breakfast takes on “Boyish.” “Glider” is perhaps the apex of this movement. It almost feels wrong to be reviewing it here; most of the song is spent in territory singles rarely explore, lands of sound without clear form and coherence. It’s the kind of song that disarms you as it opens up, a small portal to something more.

Claire Biddles: I love how Michelle Zauner plays with the idea of “video game music” here. What is often used as a lazy shorthand for unimaginative, twee electronics is actually revealed to be multi-layered, intricate and warm. Every sound — not just those sampled from her own voice — feels wrung from life and nature. The track is aptly named: As it gathers speed, it also gathers detail, like the POV from a flying object rising further from the earth.

Katherine St Asaph: Every so often, someone — someone correct, to be clear — will mention how critics need to start taking video game soundtracks seriously, as they’ve done with soundtracks for movies and TV. The way to do this is to locate the soundtracks in music history; after all, the composers were there when they wrote them. And to understand one swath of video game music, one must understand chillout music, or “lo-fi beats” in the parlance of our times. The two (quasi-)genres are linked, both in timeline — when one surges, the other tends to surge too — and in spirit. Sometimes the connection is implied, as with EarthBound‘s ASMR-y Peaceful Rest Valley and Moonside themes, Secret of Mana‘s austere, restrained “Still of the Night,” or Donkey Kong Country‘s “Aquatic Ambience,” so aquatically ambient it’s possibly the most remixed VG track. Sometimes that connection is explicit: the Streets of Rage 2 track that is literally just Enigma’s “Sadeness”, or the compositions possible in the PS1 open-landscape/ambient music sequencer Fluid. When AAA studios moved toward scoring their games to symphonic bullshit, indies picked up the pure moods, from the niche — Amorphous+, Knytt Stories — to the (relatively) mainstream: FTL, Baba Is You. “Glider” is in this mode — Michelle Zauner cited Secret of Mana specifically as a touchstone. But to my ears, the track doesn’t quite capture the same feeling. Trying for ambient dream pop, “Glider” never quite achieves enough ambience, dream or pop.

Tim de Reuse: What’s lost in the translation from “song” to “soundtrack” is the raw insistence of Zauner’s usual work: the strength of her melodies and the snap of the way she picks out her words. This is ungrounded and floaty, made to loop rather than resolve, and that’s not a bad thing in itself; hell, it’s probably a necessary sacrifice to the practicalities of soundtracking an interactive medium. Other than the telltale strain of her voice when she reaches for high notes near the climax, though, this all sounds like it could’ve been made by someone else entirely, and that’s just a little disappointing.

Ian Mathers: I haven’t had a chance to play Sable yet, or to do much more than admire its trailer, yet even there Japanese Breakfast seemed like a great fit for its soundtrack. “Glider” sits at an ideal juncture between soundtrack cue and single. You’re not left wondering why this particular bit has been excerpted since it works very well in isolation, but the way it soars is unobtrusive enough that you can imagine it underpinning something you’re doing in the game without demanding the spotlight. Michelle Zauner has talked about the challenge, as someone used to writing songs and trying to foreground hooks, in instead trying to write these kind of open world-suitable loops that can sort of percolate in the background. But even if “Glider” isn’t intended for that function, it does feel like I could listen to it repeat for quite a while.

Dorian Sinclair: The simplicity of the opening bars of “Glider” really appeals to me — that rippling accompaniment underneath the rocking, folk-y melody. The second half of the song, where it expands into something a little more ambient, less structured, is also interesting. But I’m not sure how well the two marry. Given “Glider”‘s role as part of a game score rather than a standalone piece, I understand why it’s shaped the way it is, but I really want to hear the song that the first minute sets up.

Juana Giaimo: When we talk about nocturne songs, we generally refer to relaxing sounds, and while “Glider” is that, it also features a lot of movement. Fron the keyboard arpeggios to the echoing backing vocals piling one of top of the other, it takes us on a dreamy journey where her voice — clean, contrasting with the electronic production– is our guide. 

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Adorned with ethereal M83 synths and Michelle Zauner’s lilac voice, “Glider” created a perfect bridge to another dimension, one where the movement of every minuscule particle is a subject worthy of fascination. 

Michael Hong: The waterfalling twinkles of “Glider” aren’t the joy that Michelle Zauner so arduously struggled to achieve on Jubilee, not grounded in the reality where someone can feel so conflicted to feel joy. Caught in her distorted coos that question reality and the cascading shimmers, they’re a new world, one Zauner asks you to build with her, free to choose what can exist there. You can feel pure joy if you imagine it on the next breeze.

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One Response to “Japanese Breakfast – Glider”

  1. didn’t figure out how to blurb this in time because the word “glider” + “video game” immediately put this on loop in my head:

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