Review Summary: From “INDIE pop” to “Indie POP”
Michelle Zauner, the musician between the moniker Japanese Breakfast, has been having a moment to start off 2021. Her newly-published memoir became a New York Times bestseller, she’s recently appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s and Trevor Noah’s popular shows, and the singles of her third album Jubilee
have received (for her) unprecedented chart attention. The question is where this leaves the musical direction of her newest LP.
In her aforementioned Trevor Noah interview, Zauner claimed that while her first two records focused on “grief and loss”, “ Jubilee
is about joy”. I doubt anyone who has heard either 2016’s Psychopomp
or 2017’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet
would question this description of their fairly somber tone, so these statements suggest a fairly dramatic musical transformation. Ultimately, Jubilee
bursts through the speakers with higher production values, crisp instrumentation, and more obviously catchy stylings than Japanese Breakfast has ever pursued before. In effect, Jubilee
sees Zauner leaning more towards the “pop” side of indie pop rather than the previously dominant “indie” side.
In fact, it’s immediately clear that this is a new kind of Japanese Breakfast album, with the shining opener “Paprika” followed by “Be Sweet”, the most catchy track on the LP, with its glistening 80s-influenced sound. The third song, “Kokomo, IN” is a sleek and dreamy “sound of the summer” tune as well. Late in the tracklist, “Savage Good Boy” is another obvious single, with its propulsive catchiness and biting lyrics. Even a track like “In Hell”, which Zauner notes is about the death of her dog, glimmers with energy and a sunny vibe. The album’s closing one-two punch of the tender ballad “Tactics” and “Posing In Cars”, with its extensive, emotional guitar solo, mix things up a bit, but retain the summery essence of the record’s sound. From start to finish, this is an elegant and energetic indie pop experience. While one could gripe that, for an (at-least) pop-adjacent record, the hooks are a bit thin at times, ultimately the glowing and engrossing atmosphere and the reasonably diverse instrumentation makes up for it.
The headline of this review, and likely in most discussions of this album, is that Japanese Breakfast has turned over a new leaf. While true, it’s a question of degrees. There’s a greater level of continuity with Zauner’s previous work under the Japanese Breakfast label than you’d think, and this album absolutely does not feel bland and faceless, as one may fear from the “gone pop” narrative. There’s a lot of individualized personality to find here, with lyrics typically introspective (if perhaps more upbeat than in the past) and featuring the regular sexual references which have flecked Zauner’s prior records (just listen to “Posing In Bondage” or “Sit”). In addition, especially in the album’s second half, there’s a fair amount of musical diversity to be found. As such, Jubilee
feels heartfelt, no matter the production values and the intended catchiness.The early June release date was a wise decision, as this is a colorful summer album to the core.