This dish might not be to everyone's (westernized) taste on a hungover morning, and it's also a breakfast with many components—rice, grilled fish, miso soup, pickles, and a Japanese-style omelette—and some relatively obscure ingredients. Having said that, this is as clean, wholesome, and nutritious as breakfast gets, so if anything is going to make you feel better it may well be this. However, I advise you to steer clear of tofu with a hangover (vegetarians: you may shoot me now); I've used cubes of potato instead.
what am I doing?
So with Jubilee, Michelle Zauner's indie-pop project hits it out of the park at all ends possible, creating arguably the most impressive project of the year. A lot of Jubilee is simply and based out on typical pop formulas, however, there's just a sense of odd perfection here. Soft Sounds is a lovely project, however, I was always way bigger on Psychopomp, and to date, that's my favorite thing Zauner has done. A relatively underrated and simple dream pop album filled with charisma, emotion, and wrought out of pain.
Jubilee is arguably her most grandiose project, and that's funny because at its essence this is a simple chamber-pop/synth-pop project sonically. But it's also mind-blowingly good at junctures and mostly self-produced. It checks every single box in my mind, and that's where its beauty lies. Having been enamored by her previous work and the three singles that served as the prelude to the project, liking this project was a no-brainer, but I'm actually surprised with how unique and well-produced it is.
See, unlike the popular opinion, my favorite single from Jubilee's press run was Be Sweet. It's a basic song, but it's infinitely uplifting and adorable. Her voice was effervescent and exuberated an abundance of youth and energy. However, a lot of Jubilee fails to hit the same mark of flowing, over joyous and lovestruck energy, instead, it actually dabbles in some more hard-hitting and emotional sectors.
One thing I adore a lot about this is despite my given love for this project's two direct predecessors, Jubilee seems to be based around the framework of BUMPER, her duo with Ryan Galloway of Crying, and that duo made what was arguably my favorite EP of last year, aptly titled "pop songs 2020".
That EP was infinitely sweet, smelled like candy canes, and tasted like them too. It was full of boisterous pop bite, something seemingly uncharted by Zauner under the Little Big League and Japanese Breakfast nameplates. When I observed that Jubilee had a pinch of that energy as well, mind I say I was filled with endless delight?
But the only main co-producer and assisting personnel listed here is her frequent collaborator Craig Hendrix, who along with Zauner manufactured Jubilee's sound. The amount of effort and ambition exceeds what went into the previous projects, Craig's ever-growing presence in the project has yielded in richer drum progressions and has helped channel Zauner's creative energy into action, as displayed in a handful of interviews.
"The song title comes from this Satoshi Kon movie, Paprika, and this sort of surreal parade that happens. I was playing around with a lot of these Spitfire Albion orchestra plugins, and I had come up with this marching band thing that built up into this huge crash in the chorus. I basically brought it to Craig and was just like, "How do we make this real?"
How infinitely interesting is that? Satoshi Kon and Wes Anderson inspired Paprika? That's just bewildering and pretty exciting to think of. But as you can see, the collaborative effort here is very clean, both artists chimed in an equal amount of effort, and hence you could say they are now a bulletproof duo, and Jubilee is further proof of that.
They've managed to Rivet every single flaw and empty hole on the sonical side of Japanese Breakfast, and brought in some exciting and genuinely well-put-together elements of experimental sound that seemed like uncharted waters during the Psychopomp era, but like the use of vocal effects on Soft Sounds, Jubilee has its fair share of little quirks, but what's the most impressive is that they've managed to my favorite thing in music: Make modern-sounding music that boasts of life yet simultaneously tugs at your heartstrings, and not to mention, has its fair dose of orchestration, horns, and whatnot.
The miscellaneous assortments aren't perfect by any means to call this some sort of technically impressive project, but I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of this.
Towards the end of this project, it does wane into more balladry and fewer synth elements, but if you take a look at the lyrical content here, they are quite interesting to the listener. But you really feel like, given the wait of around 3 years (for this project that is) and everything else in the book, this truly deserved a longer run time to solely let all the ideas pan out perfectly.
But I'm not complaining, it makes Jubilee a concise listening experience, just as Psychopomp was. It doesn't toll out the listener, but given the earworm hooks and pleasant vocal melodies that almost sound like lullabies, you wouldn't complain if Jubilee went on for a surplus twenty minutes, to be honest. But the ten-track run carries the weight of the project quite flawlessly.
Similar to Weezer's Ok Human, but if you added more vibrance and poppiness while also taking out half of the corny aspects on that record, I'm surprised Jubilee really even dabbled in Chamber-pop. I came in here expecting cute, bubbly synthpop and city-pop reminiscent of Be Sweet and Bumper, but what I got is arguably the most solid indie-pop record of the year, and that's something I'd settle for.
Posing For Bondage is a multi-layered and progressive pop song that almost sounds like it would break down into a deep-house section. While its successor, Posing For Cars sounds like labelmate Phoebe Bridgers' I Know The End. The lyrical prowess obviously isn't similar, but sonically, the goal is achieved.
I feel like Posing For Cars is the only song that takes a while to get into its gear, but nearly everything else on Jubilee boasts of solid vocal performances, contextually impressive production choices, and emotive lyricism. The topics are usual, but like Reedy pointed out, Savage Good Boy stands out as a track that focuses on the story of an affluent couple.
One explanation for a lack of direct grief is probably that her mental state is more stable today. Psychopomp and Soft Sounds conveyed the loss of her Mother around 2014. She has written books and memoirs about her mother, both adorable and grief-stricken, highlighting everything from their bonding over something as insignificant as food, but also throwing in stuff like a language barrier, and a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship.
But it's clear she has moved on over the course of the last few years, and hence Jubilee channels more positive energy than you'd expect. That doesn't mean it goes far astray from less flashy topics. They said that there was a fictional tale of murder similar to Ballad 0 from "pop songs 2020" here.
These songs have the rather peculiar feature of being disguised as ride-or-die love songs but actually are faux-important "murder-ballads". It's a hilarious touch because you know the artist is a good person, but hearing something of this degree is very interesting. Very. However, I really can't trace down which song takes that role here, sadly.
So like I said, there's a lovely wind of air over this. She wanted to become "Jimmy Fallon Big", and now look, she is. There are all the side projects as well, so she doesn't even have to do much with Japanese Breakfast. But like I mentioned, this album is quite the solid pop record. So I guess it went as planned.
Talking song by song: Paprika is multi-layered and surprisingly dense for a Japanese Breakfast song instrumentally. The lyrics could use some context because despite sounding liminal on the first listen I couldn't tie exactly what they convey.
Be Sweet is well, uhm, Be Sweet. It's a bubbly pop song that's very charismatic and was supposedly intentionally engineered for success, which it did get because by the standards set it has about 4.5 million streams, which is relatively impressive. Its self-produced and stuff is kept simple, but it still serves as an example on how to make a perfect pop song. The lyrics are reckless and fun, they also yearn for love and stability. But they aren't deep, and that's exactly why this is perfect at what it set out to do. It breathes life into the record, to begin with.
Kokomo, IN, is told from the perspective of an 18-year-old boy who is leaving his hometown behind, his friends, memories, and his high school sweetheart. It is linked to the artist's story, however, it's also optimistic of discovering a whole new world than being in grief and holding onto the past.
It's possible about moving on in life. Slide Tackle took time to get off the drawing board and into action, so she apparently sought help from Ryan Galloway (who collaborated with her on BUMPER) for a few additional elements. Once again, there's no blunt lyricism nor is it focused on, but this track is another hit sonically.
I talked about Posing In Bondage, it's designed well and it's dedicated to stuff like Monogamy. Neat stuff, but I already touched upon what makes this song, this song. It's solid. Sit continues on similar topics, apparently, Tears For Fears influenced the piano line, but I'm not too fond of Tears For Fears myself.
Songs From The Big Chair is great though, and I love the song Memories Fade as well for you know.. reasons. I touched upon Savage Good Boy, and while I find this song the messiest on here sonically for obvious reasons, and I'm not a fan of the pitched-up vocals, but the lyrics are some of the best on here.
In Hell is about euthanizing her dog. Pretty solid subject matter, and the execution is great. The album does wane in experimentation towards this end but who cares, it's been a great run so far. Running out of steam isn't uncommon. Tactics is an attempt at making a ballad with lyrics about her estranged father, and Posing For Cars slowly works its way into being a solid closer to the record. She tops it all off with a long guitar solo that is the cherry on the icing on the cake for this project.
So when you take in all the factors, Jubilee is decent lyrically, ambitious on the production side, as there are a collection of elements fused together to make one solid cocktail of sound, a solid gallery of instrumentation, yet, it remains one of the most accessible yet guilt-free listens you could have all year long.
Zauner remains solid vocally, and sounds way younger than her 32 years, and all of these factors culminate in making Jubilee arguably my personal favorite release of the year. Not that it's any more impressive than these records with illustrious lyricism and medal-earning chord progressions that twist, turn and bend unusually, but what Jubilee does is what I really needed to brighten up my day, my week, and possibly my month given how much I'm probably gonna overplay this record in the near future.
This isn't necessarily the best project to come out of this nameplate, as Psychopomp has held special regard in my books for ages, but Jubilee is as good, if not very slightly better. I know most people won't be as fond of this record as I am but I've been waiting for this for quite a long while, and I am pleased with how pleasantly interesting this record is.