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Japanese Breakfast
Jubilee Ed Power , June 11th, 2021 08:30

Michelle Zauner surprisingly chipper third Japanese Breakfast album may be just the tonic we need right now, finds Ed Power

After a year of lockdown records, it’s time to welcome into our lives the new genre of ‘post-pandemic’ album. One such example is Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee. Celebratory and suffused in optimism, it chimes with the sense of a long dark night finally drawing to a close. This isn’t by coincidence. Michelle Zauner – the Korean-American native of Eugene, Oregon, who has used Japanese Breakfast as a stage name since 2016’s Psychopomp – could write the book about coming out of the shadows and facing towards the dawn.

Actually, she has written a book about it, in the form of her bestselling memoir Crying In H Mart, soon to be adapted into a movie by MGM. In 2014, Zauner lost her 56-year-old mother to pancreatic cancer. In the intervening years she has poured her trauma into her art. This has yielded two long-players brimming with poignancy – and the hugely humane and affecting H Mart (which began as a 2018 New Yorker essay) .

But now, following an extended and disorientating lockdown of the soul, she’s ready for change. Jubilee finds her figuratively cracking open the shutters and engaging once again with the outside world.

The album isn’t uplifting in a simplistic sense. Often, it’s blotted with shadows. In her lyrics, Zauner has a fondness for zig-zagging from ebullient to devastating, often when you least expect it (“With my luck you’ll be dead within the year / I’ve come to expect it,” she croons on ‘In Hell’).

And yet at a molecular level, Jubilee is a rush. Horns abound, retro-future synths conjure a vapourware pizazz. At one point (during ‘Slide Tackle’) the floor is given over to a euphoric/ cheesy sax solo that almost makes you fall in love with euphoric/ cheesy sax solos.

Zauner has stated in interviews that she wrote Jubilee thinking of such classic third albums as Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine and Bjork’s Homogenic. Those LPs showcased a different side to artists fans thought they had sussed. They were surprising, sometimes carefree, occasionally wayward and wilful.

Jubilee takes all those qualities and bungs them in a blender. When it wants to be, it’s ferociously catchy : the “Be Sweet To Me, Baby / I Wanna Believe In You” refrain on single ‘Be Sweet’, for instance, fizzles like cinnamon on your tongue.

However, Zauner has no interest in making anything as straightforward as an upbeat pop album. What she’s really doing with Jubilee is engaging with the concept of life after bereavement. You never really get over losing a loved one, as anyone who has ever gone through the experience will tell you. As weeks, months, and years creep by, though, life reasserts itself. To simply continue functioning as a normal person, you are required to re-engage with the full spectrum of human emotion.

That includes joy – even giddiness. Those are the register of feelings in which Zauner operates on the electro-soaked ‘Kokomo, IN’ and the discoid cyberpunk of ‘Posing In Bondage’. And so, following an extended period of spiritual isolation, she’s ready to step outside the four walls of her grief. For obvious reasons, the rest of us are similarly itching to engage with the crazed, unpredictable tumult of life in the great wide open. Which makes Jubilee the perfect record coming into our lives at absolutely the perfect time.