2021 • ALTERNATIVE/ROCK • DEAD OCEANS
Michelle Zauner‘s lyricism on her new record, Jubilee, is firm, surgical, and sharp, and her sound, although not the best, is still pretty great.
Michelle Zauner’s transition from her latest studio album, 2017’s Soft Sounds from Another Planet, to her latest release, Jubilee, is like the passing of seasons. “After spending the last five years writing about grief, I wanted our follow up to be about joy,” she told about the album in a statement. In a way, it’s just like what happens when spring comes after the solid, lonely, and dark winter. Dry branches gain leaves and flowers, fruits are born, birds are singing and grass takes on its green color to become saturated in the next summer. Even though you have become a new person, like a verdant tree, your branches still remember the dry season and will look forward wiser.
Zauner’s Jubilee it’s just like this, showing the Korean-American singer moving on to a more solid moment, but taking her past as north of where not to go. On her last two albums, 2016’s Psychopomp and Soft Sounds from Another Planet, Michelle was highly influenced by her mother’s death in 2014. Jubilee, her third full-length record, in its turn, takes on a more positive, softer, and simplistic approach. On the record, which is released after her debut book called Crying in H Mart, which ended up debuting at No. 2 on The New York Times’ Best Sellers, she deals with breakups, fictional characters, sex, and society, however, she never really gets upset or lose hope about the future. Her lyricism is firm, surgical, and sharp, and her sound may not sound as powerful and bold as it should, however still pretty well-done.
The opener, “Paprika,” is one of the best tracks on the record, it maps the whole way that goes through the album. The song was born from experimentation. “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,” she told NPR. It’s named after Satoshi Kon’s movie Paprika and shows Michelle singing about the nice side of being an artist. She sings, “How’s it feel to be at the center of magic/To linger in tones and words?”, and then later, “to strangers who feel it, who listen, who linger on every word.” It’s a feeling of tranquility seeded by a forgotten side.
And the vast majority of the songs on the album are like that, carrying that emergent simplicity that comes from inner honesty. While “Slide Tackle” features detailed production that mixed homemade beats with beats slightly reminiscent of 2000’s electronic music, “Tactics” bets on a beautiful ballad oriented by the well-done mix of drums, violins, and synthesizers. “So I had to/Move a great distance from you/Cross a sea, keep you from me,” she sings on the hook as the violins play sweet melodies smoothly. On the other hand, “Posing in Bondage” shows up with darker, deeper, and heavier sounds to follow Michelle’s discussion about how monogamy makes people prey and servants of feelings when they are alone. Lastly, as much as “In Hell” is forgettable, “Sit” is memorable, with its more refined instruments and lyrics about controlling your desires.
Jubilee’s best songs are the ones where Zauner pushes her barriers even further. The homemade-inspired “Be Sweet” is one of her best songs. She uses candied, delicate, and (a little bit) vintage instruments as the background of her message to her ex. She demands more respect and sings, “Make it up to me, you know it’s better/Be sweet to me, baby/I wanna believe in you, I wanna believe.” “Kokomo, IN,” in its turn, features the best lines on the record. The track is sung from the perspective of a character she made up who lives in Kokomo. On it, she sings, “You have to go show the world all the parts of you that I fell so hard for.” Later, “Savage Good Boy” also appears as one of the strongest moments, telling the story of a billionaire man who bought a bunker and is trying to coax his lover to come live with him while the apocalypse is happening around them — the track also features synthesizers that distort the whole sound. In the end, “Posing for Cars” closes the record flawlessly, with beautiful lyrics (“I’m just a woman with a loneliness/I’m just a woman with needs”) and a nice guitar solo that took half of the track to deliver the dense sound experience.
However, at the same time what makes Jubilee unique and brings its originality, it’s what cuts its strengths. The sound of the record is calm, involving, light, and pretty fun. But in the end, it doesn’t go much further than that. Over time, whether you like it or not, you kinda wish Zauner was more incisive and presented a little more chaos because in the end, regardless of her transformation, there’s turmoil along the way and Michelle doesn’t show much of that side of her sound, creating a state of certain monotonicity and not a feeling of epiphany, which would be more appropriate. But no matter what, she’s arrived here… and it’s going to be a long, hot summer.