Review: Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
National Music Reviews
Japanese Breakfast = Mannequin Pussy + Kate Bush
It’s a time of renaissance for Michelle Zauner and her solo music project Japanese Breakfast. In 2021, Michelle Zauner stands firmly in the middle of trying to balance two highly emotional dynamics. In one hand, Zauner holds tightly to the experience of putting her music career on hold to care for her dying mother and rediscover their shared Korean heritage. Zauner tells this story beautifully in her widely successful 2021 memoir, Crying In H-Mart. The book is gut wrenchingly heartbreaking and transformative at the same time.
In Zauner’s other hand she holds equally as tight to a new album about joy. Jubilee is Zauner’s third full-length LP under her Japanese Breakfast moniker. The first two releases, Psychopomp (2016) and Soft Sounds From Another Planet (2017), dealt mostly with the trauma of losing her mother. Jubilee is a rebirth. The record is like spring—all the colors come back.
“Be sweet to me, baby / I wanna believe in you, I wanna believe,” Zauner sings on the track “Be Sweet.” The track is a new wave pop burner with a sense of optimism and sunshine; It’s a summer song that will stick to playlists like candy. ‘Posing In Bondage’ is a darker track, but it does not get lost there. Zauner delivers it like a late-era Kate Bush song, with teasing lyrics like: “Can you tell I’ve been posing / This way alone for hours? / Waiting for your attention / Waiting for you.” Zauner then hammers the track with a simple chorus: “Closeness / Proximity / I needed / Bondage.”
On Jubilee, Zauner sounds confident in the newfound poetics she accessed when writing her memoir. She gorgeously explodes like a hot-house flower in three-minute songs. Every track on this record is a treasure, from the beautifully upbeat “Paprika” to the sultry and sexy rainy day sounds of “Kokomo, IN.” On the track “Slide Tackle,” Zauner slides in a juicy sax right in the middle of a steady electronic beat and a killer synth line—it’s like biting into a caramel. The record closes with the pulsating “Posing For Cars.” It isn’t a sad song necessarily, but it has sad parts: “I’m just a woman with a loneliness / I’m just a woman with needs.” Zauner sings, “All of my pleasure left on display / I’m just the empty space inside the room.” “Posing With Cars” pushes toward resilience with a slow steady acoustic guitar transforming into a cutting electric one to close out the record.
A touching passage from Crying in H-Mart recalls a time her mother bought her brand-new cowboy boots. Before giving the cowboy boots to her, Zauner’s mother wore them for weeks to wear them in, making them comfortable. Through her music and memoir, Zauner has come to terms with her grief—she’s moved around a little in it. Now Zauner gives us Jubilee, and the record fits just right. –Russ Holsten