CD of the Month: Japanese Breakfast - "Jubilee"
For Michelle Zauner, 2021 is proving to be a banner year. Her first book, Crying In H Mart, a memoir on the loss of her mother and their bonding over their native Korean food, was a #2 New York Times bestseller, and as of writing this, has been optioned for film rights. After three self-directed music videos ahead of its release, including one with former Soprano Michael Imperioli in the mix, her latest album Jubilee has landed. On her third release as Japanese Breakfast, after two records exploring and processing grief, Zauner reaches out for joy, and embraces it.
The album springs to life from the get go, with the opening track “Paprika” bursting with marching band fanfare, with lyrics about the feeling of being an artist, and what it means to transmit your emotions to people who want to hear all about them. As Zauner says herself, “it’s a rush!”. The lyrics turn to the weight of carrying so much emotion inside, of managing the darker feelings while trying to find and exude that joy you’re looking for. That topic comes around again in the dance-y number “Slide Tackle,” in my opinion a dark horse album cut hit. The album explores lots of emotions and worlds under its gleeful musical exterior, from a vignette on a doomsday prepping billionaire tycoon in “Savage Good Boy,” to a classic Midwestern teen love saga in “Kokomo, IN.” Jubilee covers lots of compositional ground as well, to the electronic, vocal synth textures of “Posing In Bondage,” to the string and electric piano-led “Tactics,” a warm acoustic ballad highlight. The album is mostly a two-person effort, with Zauner and bandmate/producer Craig Hendrix forming the album’s creative core. Some guests appear sporadically, including most notably on the lead single Be Sweet, co-written with Wild Nothing’s Jack Tatum and almost sold as a song for another artist. I’m glad they decided otherwise, because it’s a wonderful 80’s pop nugget that’s sure to get stuck in your head.
It’s been four years since Japanese Breakfast last released an album, with so many happenings in between, including the 2018 New Yorker essay that got Zauner her book deal. This album almost came out in 2020 before the pandemic changed the plans. I think the wait til 2021 was worth it, as the year has already brought much success into the J Brekkie camp, with Jubilee serving as the musical triumph. Keep an eye out for this one on year-end lists, I believe you’ll find it on a lot of them.
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