Japanese Breakfast's 'Jubilee' Celebrates Life in All of Its Heartbreaking Beauty

BY Alisha MughalPublished Jun 2, 2021

Japanese Breakfast's third studio album, Jubilee, is a paradox: simultaneously strong and delicate. It satisfies like a Shakespearean comedy; it welcomes listeners in with a bloom like dawn, goes on to break your heart, and then with meticulous care puts you back together. Grander and more cinematic than 2016's Psychopomp and 2017's Soft Sounds from Another Planet by virtue of its strings and horns, this album is Michelle Zauner's invitation to throw caution to the wind and bask in unapologetic happiness. To dance, and even to cry — because, the album seems to say, the act of feeling itself will give you hope when nothing else can.   

Zauner describes the album as a fight for happiness, which gains special meaning in face of the fraught circumstances that birthed the band's first two albums: Zauner's mother's death due to gastrointestinal cancer. While Psychopomp and Soft Sounds had a specific and urgent feeling — grief and working through it — as their thesis, this album is guided by a striving to feel at all. Each track is a confined attempt at gaiety, a succinct story in service of this greater mission of uninhibited emotion — which is ultimately, hopefully joy.   

The record opens with "Paprika," which is all horns and flourishes in what is the sonic equivalent of a rousing from sleep, fresh and bright. "Slide Tackle" has a sax solo that gives Carly Rae Jepsen's "Run Away With Me" a run for its money. The first half of the album is playful in this way, even a track like "Kokomo, IN," which sings of the sweet loneliness of waiting for your crush to return as a teen. But halfway through, Zauner's trenchant lyricism, the gravity of which you could easily miss in the funkiness of something like "Be Sweet," becomes difficult to ignore. 

"The world divides into two people," Zauner sings on "Posing in Bondage," "those who have felt pain and those who have yet to." These heavier tracks, whose sombreness is almost sneaky, punctuate the album — they do have a poppy, jaunty beat, and you can still dance to them when you're tipsy, but when you become drunk you might weep. Don't second-guess your tears, though, because it's all in keeping with the aim of Jubilee: crying for Zauner is a reminder that you're alive, a relief that can lead to joy. Zauner wants you to be soaked through and through with emotion. "Hell is finding someone to love and I can't have you," Zauner sings on "In Hell." It's an insistent refrain that stings fiercely.

Final track "Posing for Cars" is the grandest of finales because it best exemplifies the album's aim, which is to help you feel with the acuteness of adolescence. Zauner sings of a an emptiness so vast it hurts to think about — but her voice, as she sings of the uncertainty of time, seems consoling, like she's smiling. The strings, a gently-plucked electric guitar, a stately piano, and jubilant horns create a grandness that propels listeners toward happiness, validating whatever might be going through your head. 

Jubilee isn't about pushing the pain away; rather, it's a validation of whatever it is you feel. Zauner wants you to know with this record that you have the capacity to find joy in whatever mess life throws your way. Zauner's voice contains a sensuality that runs down your spine and seeps into your pores, working through your viscera and making you feel alive.
(Dead Oceans)

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