Michelle Zauner gets unshackled and steps into the light…

Many words can be thrown at Japanese Breakfast’s third album, ‘exuberant,’ ‘joyous,’ ‘poppy,’ to name just a few, but I think ‘healing’ would be most apt. 2016’s ‘Psychopomp’ and its follow up saw Zauner combining elements of shoegaze and dream pop to help come to terms with her mother’s cancer diagnosis and eventual death, an artistic grieving process that’s been solidified with her outstanding debut memoir Crying In H Mart. ‘Jubilee’ sees Zauner fully unshackled for the first time, keeping the emotive core of her songwriting and marrying it with boundless energy and ambition. It’s truly a triumph.

At a brisk ten tracks, the release can proudly be stamped with the ‘all killer no filler’ seal of approval while traversing everything from 80s jams to swooning ballads, never losing a sense of intimacy that holds the set together in the process. Tracks such as opener ‘Paprika’ and single ‘Be Sweet’ see Zauner offer deliriously sweet fare while showcasing her growth as a composer. Walls of ambiance have been replaced with stabbing strings, horns, and beats that demand movement from the most bashful wallflower. The deliciously kooky ‘Savage Good Boy’ even rocks a multilayered outro solo that wouldn’t be amiss coming from the fingers of Brian May.

Despite all the sonic experimentation, ‘Jubilee’ remains keenly personal, its search for new chapters and new happiness mirroring both the songwriter’s life but also a generation’s. Dreamy synth-led numbers can still contain lyrics like “Hell is finding someone to love / And I can’t see you again,” while the ethereal ‘Posing In Bondage’ manages to convey a sense of isolation and lust simultaneously. It’s the sound of someone deciding to chase all the possibilities of the future while still accepting the damage that surrounds us all.

This latest incarnation of Japanese Breakfast has distilled all the heart and feeling fans have come to love and sprinkled it with some fairy dust and rocket fuel, propelling it to a new level of musical possibilities. It’s fun and fearless and with enough depth to have the songs stick to your ribs. It’s intelligent pop done right.

‘Jubilee’ may be the sound of one person’s desire to chase after sunnier horizons, but after the horror show we’ve all been through, it makes damn fine accompaniment for any listener looking forward. She’s landed three knockouts and is only getting stronger.

9/10

Words: Sam Walker-Smart

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