An alt-pop record that poses larger than life questions
Philip Giouras
11:41 3rd June 2021

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Over the past five years, Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner has been singing about grief, specifically the passing of her mother from pancreatic cancer. She unpacked her emotions on the subject with her 2016 debut Psychopomp, whilst follow-up Soft Sounds from Another Planet addressed life on earth and the collapse of a relationship. On her third record Jubilee, Zauner wanted the follow-up to be about joy. “For me, a third record should feel bombastic and so I wanted to pull out all the stops for this one”.

That joy is evident throughout the album, manifesting in different forms. On opening track ‘Paprika’ triumphant horns rise as Zauner asks “How’s it feel to stand at the height of your powers, to captivate every heart?”. Suddenly, Zauner’s questions are interrupted by her elongated euphoric outpouring of “Oh, it’s a rush”, she’s encompassed with jubilance and wants the listener to be as well. On lead single ‘Be Sweet’ you’re awash with glorious synths and spiky '80s guitar riffs, before the intoxicating chorus “Be sweet to me baby” hits. It’s the sound of Zauner opening her heart to new romantic possibilities, with how she elongates the words “I want to beeeelieve” - you can sense through her tone the mix of excitement and trepidation about offering up her heart so willingly. 

‘Kokomo, IN’ floats along like a psychedelic dream, a perfect mixture of acoustic melodies and soaring strings that add a glisten and gleam to the production. It’s a sweeping, beautiful number full of small flourishes such as a surprising steel-pedal twang that adds to the dreamlike soundscape. While it’s admittley joyous in both name and nature, Zauner isn’t afraid to frequently mix things up: ‘Slide Tackle’ floats over a trip-hop, almost lo-fi garage beat before sharply shifting into a smooth saxophone break. ‘Sit’ builds from a muddled grunge riff, ‘Savage Good Boy’ is a playful yet slightly unsettling pop masterstroke whilst ‘Posing In Bondage’ is a dark sparse synth-pop track, in which Zauner’s words when not echoing around your brain are cutting deep into your heart as she sings lines such as: “When the world divides into two people, those who have felt pain and those who have yet to”.

Jubilee is the culmination of Zauner not just discovering herself as an artist but as a person; she’s spent so long in the depths of grief that the joy she’s now feeling is intoxicating. Jubilee never overstays its welcome: it's a concise listen that only slightly falters as it finds itself veering off towards its conclusion as the swaying ‘Tactics’ and prog stylings of the mostly instrumental dreamy closer ‘Posing for Cars’ take the record into much less focused directions. Ultimatley, however, Jubilee is an alternative pop record that pulls you into the world of Japanese Breakfast, poses larger than life questions, and leaves you evaluating not just the record, but also yourself. 

Jubilee arrives 4 June via Dead Oceans.

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Photo: Press