Album of the Week: Japanese Breakfast, 'Jubilee'

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Japanese Breakfast, 'Jubilee'
Japanese Breakfast, 'Jubilee' (Dead Oceans)

As the summer heat sets in and the white fluff of cottonwood drifts like a gas station snow globe, it feels like the world has settled into a state of abundance after the swift growth of spring. Japanese Breakfast's new album, Jubilee, finds itself in a similar position. Japanese Breakfast is the project of Michelle Zauner and this is her third album under the moniker. Following the release of 2017's sophomore effort Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Zauner spent years on the road, touring and learning from the musicians who crossed her path. With some years between releases, these lessons and the life lived while learning them had the space to culminate into a new sonic palette on Jubilee. The album opens with the glittering "Paprika," an expansive point of entry to the album with drums fit to lead a marching band, soaring horns, and lush orchestral strings. It's an invititation to the listener to dive in to the unreserved and luminescent world of Jubilee. Tight pop hooks and the guitar driven sound Japanese Breakfast mastered on their first two releases anchor the album as it finds it's way into vast aural worlds.

Lyrically, Jubilee finds Zauner exploring new territory as well. The album was written and recorded during the half year period between Zauner handing off the first draft of her memoir to the publishers and beginning the revision process. Crying in H Mart was released in April, and it largely focuses on the grief that followed Zauner's mother's passing in 2014, a theme that runs through the first two Japanese Breakfast albums as well. After centering her attention on grief, Zauner saw writing Jubilee as an opportunity to dive into the complexities of a different emotion: joy.

While Jubilee is about joy, it's not necessarily a happy album. Zauner digs deep into the anxieties that fester when it feels joy is just out of reach and the tenuous hold it has when it feels like it can be lost. "In Hell" tells the story of a loved one at the end of their life with the aching chorus "Hell is finding someone to love and I can't see you again". "Savage Good Boy" is an infinitely catchy bop grounded in heavy piano chords describing the prospective material comforts of a well-outfitted doomsday bunker. "Kokomo, IN" ruminates on yearning, the gnawing of unrealized potential, with lilting vocals spilling sweet lines like "Passing time just popping wheelies". The album weaves together these narratives into a rich tapestry that articulates the fullness of joy. It's an emotional world that's not often given its due depth, but Zauner's wisdom and craft build the kind dimension that culminates across an entire life. Jubilee doesn't just give the listener a warm summer day, but also the feeling of shoulders glowing red from an afternoon in the sun and the dissatisfying sip of watered-down lemonade that was savored too slowly.

Jubilee is an exploration in new sounds and ideas, but it doesn't depart too much from what many Japanese Breakfast came to love the project for: a sprinkling of well-crafted hooks, poignant lyricism, and warm fuzzed out guitars. Stretching outward and looking inwards, it's a radiant journey through intricacies both personal and universal, a gracious turn of the seasons filtered through the eyes of an uncommonly keen observer.

External Link

Japanese Breakfast - official site

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    Japanese Breakfast 2021 press photo (Peter Ash Lee)

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