Jubilee is an album of contrasts. Its rich, lush instrumentation is pure ecstasy. But, if you dig underneath the surface, you’ll find an album filled with grief, loss, loneliness, and self-hatred. Jubilee sees Michelle Zauner engaging in the age-old practice of dancing through the pain, coating her heartache in a pop bliss rivaling the greatest indie crooners.
Jubilee begins with a clean synth swell. But within 45 seconds this tranquil soundscape has evolved into a grand display of emotion. By its climax, the opening track, “Paprika”, features horns, a marching snare, synth pads, and bass guitar. Zauner sounds ecstatic on “Paprika”. Every vocal note and phrase is precisely where it needs to be. It’s a wonderful opener.
“Be Sweet” is next up. A slick, summery, and deceptively carefree rocker that would feel at home on any dancefloor. Zauner sings of a lover who has mistreated her and pleads with him to “recognize your (their) mistakes” before it’s too late. “Slide Tackle” and “In Hell” are equally danceable, and both tracks achieve the same lyric to instrumental contrast of ‘Be Sweet”. “In Hell” is particularly notable in this regard. Its poetic, downtrodden lyrics are particularly dark compared to the rest of the album. But its wonderfully hooky chorus melody makes it one of 2021’s most fascinatingly catchy singles.
Not every moment on Jubilee is gleeful. “Posing in Bondage” meditates on pain, monogamy, and lack of intimacy, containing perhaps the album’s most affecting lyric; “When the world divides into two people, those who have felt pain, and those who have yet to.” With this line Zauner unites herself with all humanity, tying all people together with profound sorrow. “Sit” succeeds for similar reasons. Its excellent synth-heavy sound design makes for a symphony of tear-inducing catharsis. “Caught up in the idea of you, that’s done too soon,” is another particularly effecting lyric, revealing feelings of loss, love, and loneliness with just a few words.
“Posing for Cars”, the album’s closer, makes a welcome stylistic departure. Gone are the hazy electronics and orchestral swells. Instead, “Posing for Cars” sees Zauner bare before her audience. Every line feels intentional and heartfelt, delivered with Dylanesque phrasing. The track ends with a euphoric extended guitar solo. After all this restraint, It feels good to see Zauner finally let herself go.
Jubilee is a success on every front. Its lyrics are thought-provoking, its instrumentals dense, lush, and unpredictable. From its joyful beginning to its somber and cathartic end, Jubilee is an emotional journey that should not be missed