‘Jubilee’: The sad girl’s summer album


Photo courtesy of Bandcamp

Japanese Breakfast’s third studio album “Jubilee” takes an eclectic twist on the alt/indie pop genre.

“Jubilee” is the third album by the artist known as Japanese Breakfast, and it has the potential to dominate summer playlists.

In the same way Phoebe Bridgers’ “Punisher,” took over summer 2020 and Billie Eilish’s “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” took over the summer before that, this alt/indie album is truly iconic.

From her emo roots in Philadelphia, Michelle Zauner has always taken up space as one to know in the music industry. Now, with her third album under the name Japanese Breakfast, Zauner saw the opportunity to branch out to something more eccentric — taking influence from Bjork and Kate Bush.

Lovingly produced under the same label as Phoebe Bridgers and Mitski — Dead Oceans — “Jubilee” twists the sad girl narrative we’re used to from not only the genre but from Zauner herself into something cathartic and optimistic.

Opening with “Paprika,” the listener is automatically transported into the world built inside this album. Invoking strong feminine energy with callouts to magic and running water, we get a taste of that eccentric pop Zauner promised. Quick chime riffs contrast with lilting vocals to create images of a fantasy world, setting the perfect tone for an album titled “Jubilee.”

The joy radiating from this album is contagious — the carefree beat in songs like “Be Sweet” and “Slide Tackle” really pull the listener in. Each song has so many components, it becomes an all-encompassing sensory experience — with each replay, there’s something new to notice.

Despite its upbeat and joyful tracks, the album is not exactly the kind of thing you can throw on as background noise. “Jubilee” is thought provoking, emotional and, at times, totally gut wrenching (hello, “Posing for Cars”). It’s the kind of album you put on to stare at the sky and think about how small you actually are, not for hitting the pothole in the Dunkin’ parking lot at 40 miles per hour.

“Jubilee” is flat out interesting. Each song brings its own unique story inside this world established in the opening track, but even more than the lyrics, musically, Zauner has been able to do something totally new. She abuses repetitive motifs and ’80s-style synth melodies in an experimental way.

Track seven, “Savage Good Boy,” was a fast favorite with its reference to classic video game themes and its subversion of gendered terms. Zauner paints herself in the traditional male role as the billionaire breadwinner and “your man,” but still sings so sweetly despite calling herself the savage good boy.

“Posing in Bondage” and “Tactics” fight for recognition as the top ballad on the album, but both are just so powerful. The former twists the connotations behind “bondage” on its head by framing it as a good thing — comforting and close. “Tactics” has an old-school feel to it with influences of the late great Bill Withers.

There is something so humbling about albums totally written by the artist themselves — Zauner gifted her listeners with something so intimate and personal with “Jubilee,” which can be heard in every note and lyric.

The Korean American singer has had her fair share of influence on sad girl music beloved by women in their early 20s, but Zauner has been able to contort the genre into something new. She set out to stay “extremely weird” with this album, and she does so in the best way possible.

4/5 stars