When music and South Korea are mentioned, the cottage industry known as BTS is the typical response. However, Seoul native Michelle Zauner, aka Japanese Breakfast, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, is making a big impact in the world of entertainment.
“Jubilee,” Zauner’s deep third album, which dropped this month, is essentially a companion piece to her New York Times nonfiction bestseller “Crying in H Mart: A Memoir.” The book, much like her music, is revealing and finds Zauner exploring her Korean roots after her mother succumbed to a battle with cancer in 2014.
Zauner’s moving memoir, which is being optioned into a film by Orion Pictures, is a compelling page-turner. It’s evident how much Zauner, who came of age in Eugene, Oregon, has developed as a recording artist with “Jubilee.” The songs are fleshed out, and Zauner has left the lo-fi world behind. The guitar-driven synth pop-rock tunes are clever, melodic and introspective.
Zauner, 32, grabs listeners by the throat with her album opener “Paprika.” “Lucidity came slowly / I awoke from dreams of untying a great knot / It unraveled like a braid into what seemed were thousands of separate strands of fishing line.”
It’s obvious throughout the album that Zauner, who calls Philadelphia home after studying creative writing at Bryn Mawr College, is drawing from heavy experience. The catchy ’80s-esque “Be Sweet” is a playful gem. The moody and reflective “Posing in Bondage” is arguably Zauner’s high watermark to date.
Loss is the theme of “Jubilee.” Some of the finest rock albums have been inspired by the passing of a loved one. There’s Neil Young’s “Tonight’s the Night,” Arcade Fire’s “Funeral,” the Flaming Lips’ “The Soft Bulletin” and Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s “Skeleton Tree” as examples of how the pain of saying goodbye could be grist for creativity.
What makes “Jubilee” stand on its own is Zauner’s unique experience delivered in a passionate, hook-laden manner. “Jubilee” is a satisfying, ambitious and stylish release. Zauner is only taking off artistically, and it’ll be fascinating to see where this multimedia artist, who writes and records her own music, self-directs videos and writes books, ventures next. Zauner has a Seattle show set for late September. Hopefully, a Spokane date will be announced.
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