Michelle Zauner, or better known as Japanese Breakfast, has shown in the past that her talent may have been one-note tonally, and there will be a lack of light. Her first two albums had sonic range from the lo-fi dream rock and pop that encapsulated the emotional direction of her work, and it is on her third release that she slightly redefines herself. Zauner’s debut and follow-up, Psychopomp and Soft Sounds From Another Planet, evoked themes of love and death and moving on, while retaining this inner joy from spiritual connectivity; specifically her debut, which was made in the midst of grieving the loss of her mother in 2014. Hearing the lighter tones and instrumentations on Jubilee leaves me with a sense of glee. It chases the joy in life, despite tumultuously honest viewpoints, and allows that to embolden the themes, while on a juxtaposed journey of self-exploration.
From the first track (“Paprika”) on, Michelle Zauner lays the groundwork on how the lyrical construct of Jubilee takes throughout the album. These moments shine with visceral imagery from her songwriting, which takes a new life all its own. On “Paprika” Zauner eclipses past generalizing individualism and embraces her status in her own hierarchy of popularity. It is a testament towards artists who brush off a “Yummy” and keep being authentic even as you make music akin to popular styles, like pop music’s recent uptick of 80s New Wave and Disco influences underwritten in the production. It uses the 2006 Japanese Anime film Paprika as a loose inspiration to elevate the dimensions in which we understand artistic and mental control, and she delivers it with confidence. From here – on Jubilee is filled with themes and writing that demonstrates these contrasts through unique perspectives.
In talking to Apple Music about the music, Michelle Zauner talks with expression about the joy and meaning behind each song. In it she mentions her love of “Kokomo, IN,” as it is her favorite off the album, and one of the lowkey standouts. It feels more inspired by the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” more than she thinks. “Kokomo, IN” uses its loose narrative approach to bring light into the melodic – beach pop ballad. Like the Beach Boys song, the tale about love involves youths with maturity in the way they see life. It continues through contrasts on the song “Posing In Bondage,” by taking a somber and metaphorical approach to the wait-and-see dynamic behind relationships. They both bring stylistic POVs and sounds to tell similar stories except with different amounts of depth, as one speaks more through a fictitious boy and the other is her.
There is no particularly clear direction, sonically, with Jubilee. Despite the melodic synths and strings on the songs, they all have lush pop coatings that give the album a lot of fluidity. Michelle Zauner develops these sounds with her producers and instrumentalists by bringing a sense of confidence based on their propitious within each release. It isn’t hard to stick to your guns and create efficacious elements of these genres she redefines. Though, when she directs the music into more of a mainstream pop sonic construct on “Be Sweet,” it is like fireworks on the fourth of July. It is the only direct pop song, while others have that overlay which makes you think it is, but then the production picks up and you get these different arrays of sounds. It blends with the radiance in her vocal range as it is used in the amplification as backing vocals. It’s catchy and never feels forced as it transitions to the aforementioned “Kokomo, IN.”
There are many tracks that bloom with radiant light in the effervescent vocal performances from Zuauner, even when the songs don’t have bounce. There are a lot of great moments and off moments, like on “Savage Good Boy,” which has her becoming one of those rich and less exaggerated villainous businessmen we’ve read about in articles. She turns this manic story of villainy into an eclectic mess, like the electronic opening to poppy middle and closing on a wicked guitar riff. The subtleties in the string arrangements on some songs never feel fully authentic, but when it’s a focus we get brighter spots in the music. It allows for her to run free and deliver interesting and emotionally grand moments. The closing track, “Posing for Cars,” is led by a beautifully emotional performance by Zauner, as she sings this ode to her husband. It then shifts into this monstrous and focused guitar solo that speaks more words than you could imagine.
Jubilee is a whirlwind of emotions, stemming from a creative mind and the inspirations around her, like her husband. Michelle Zauner, or Japanese Breakfast, brings a new light to her artistry and in an inspired direction. There is this beauty behind the many instruments that align the production and it keeps it tighter than before. It is definitely one of my favorite records of the year.