Japanese Breakfast’s third album, Jubilee, is the singer-songwriter’s most grandiose music yet. The opening track, “Paprika,” features a glorious horn section and parading drums announcing the festival of songs to come, peppered with groovy guitar licks, fluttering strings, and rousing choruses. As the title suggests, Jubilee is an album searching for joy, after Michelle Zauner’s previous Japanese Breakfast work centered on loss and sorrow. “I want to feel it,” Zauner sings on “Slide Tackle.” “But with the feel, there is an ache I meet to desire living.” Across Jubilee, that search for a new true north takes place through instrumentals as much as music, all culminating through a minutes-long guitar solo on closing track “Posing for Cars.”
Posing is something of a motif on Jubilee, first coming up on the fifth track and second single, “Posing in Bondage.” Both “Posing in Bondage” and “Posing for Cars” focus on romantic relationships that leave something to be desired — where a partner might present herself one way while feeling another. Zauner sings of “waiting for your affection” on the former song; “I’m just a woman with a loneliness,” she declares on the latter. “I’m just a woman with needs.” Crucially, Jubilee isn’t just a happy album, but an album with happiness as a goal, and these songs especially favor digging into the journey rather than the resulting feeling.
Zauner sings the final line of “Posing for Cars” around two and a half minutes into the song, describing “a single slow desire fermenting.” Then, over the next four minutes, Zauner shows what she means instead of resting on words. Zauner’s steady guitar-strumming gives way to a poignant, slow-burning solo. It’s not a performance to show off technical achievement (even if it is one of the better new rock solos in recent memory), but to let that emotion bubble over and spill out through her playing. It’s a moment of breaking the pose and showing what’s in motion underneath, however raw it may be. Zauner told Uproxx that she first wanted Meg Duffy, the Hand Habits musician and in-demand rock guitarist, to perform the solo, before realizing that “it felt necessary that I be the one who created the narrative in a way.” Her playing sounds apprehensive at first as she tests the water with a few notes. Then, once she gets comfortable, those feelings burst through the chords. The strings lilt and wail until Zauner begins shredding, like the notes can’t come out of her fast enough. There’s a sense that she couldn’t have expressed this in any other way, and it couldn’t have come sooner than the album’s finale.
Rather than cheapening the journey by tying a bow on Jubilee, Zauner dredges up the more complex emotions that come along the way, the ones that don’t have a phonetic equivalent — even for Zauner, a gifted writer who released her debut essay collection, Crying in H Mart, in April. So Zauner approaches the problem like any good writer would, opting to show without telling it all.