Lo-fi pop powerhouse Japanese Breakfast embraced joy at Denver’s Ogden Theatre in October in support of her new album Jubilee. Korean-American multi-instrumentalist Michelle Zauner is the musician and songwriter behind Japanese Breakfast. She dazzled the sold-out venue as she brought us into her world.
Zauner opened the show with my favorite track from the album, “Paprika,” a triumphant song about “reveling in the beauty of music,” she said in the album’s digital liner notes on Apple Music. Moody synths undulated as she sang about waking from a dream, then the audience joined in as horns and snare drums crescendoed into a celebratory chorus: “How’s it feel to be at the center of magic / To linger in tones and words?” the audience sang rhetorically along with Zauner. “How’s it feel to stand at the height of your powers / To captivate every heart? / Projecting your visions to strangers / Who feel it, who listen to linger on every word?” An apt way to start the concert, we spent the next two hours lingering on her every word.
Japanese Breakfast’s first two albums, Psychopomp and Soft Sounds from Another Planet, revolve around the grief and trauma of her mother’s death in 2014. With Jubilee, Zauner channels hard-earned joy.
Although this album’s material has a happier tone than her previous work, her distinct sound remains. She continues to pull from a wide range of styles; this album incorporates disco, sax-heavy jazz riffs, guitar-shredding, and sincere odes backed by orchestral strings. Jubilee’s impressive production is difficult to re-create in a live setting, some of its songs have dozens of layers of instrumentation, but her pared-down band didn’t sacrifice any of the album’s sound. Four musicians supported Zauner’s guitar and vocals by rotating through violin, keyboard, synth, drums, saxophone, and bass.
One of the highlights of seeing Zauner’s live shows is getting to see her chemistry with her husband, Peter Bradley, on stage. He has played guitar and bass in support of her music since her debut album in 2016. Their chemistry is enchanting and brings an extra level of candor and passion to her stage presence. Zauner locked eyes with Bradley as she began a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again,” a sweet song about being helplessly in love. Bradley was blushing as he played twangy licks on slide guitar.
Other standout songs were “Savage Good Boy,” featuring an epic final guitar solo; the quiet and twangy small-town ode “Kokomo, IN;” and dark, sensual, and trancey hit “Posing in Bondage.” Although fans were eager to hear her new content, she sprinkled in some of her earlier hits: “Road Head,” full of guitar and voice loops; the dreamy and orchestral “Boyish;” and ended with Soft Sounds’ opener “Diving Woman,” a spiraling, pulsating, and epic grunge tune that lent itself to a few raucous solos from Zauner.
Not only is she an incredible guitarist, but a truly gifted writer. She garnered impressive acclaim this year for her memoir, Crying in H Mart, which reached #2 on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list upon its release this past April. Long-time fans of her lyrics shouldn’t be surprised that more mainstream audiences were quick to embrace her prose. She has a unique ability to articulate poignant romantic arcs, the emptiness of loneliness and self-doubt, and how it feels to depend on someone else too much without slipping into clichés.
If you ever have the opportunity to see Japanese Breakfast, seize it. Her energy and enthusiasm will keep you smiling for an hour straight. Her talent, confidence, and exuberance create a palpable kind of magic, and I count myself lucky to have been spellbound for two blissful hours.
Jonah Mutono is a multi-talented recording artist who released one of the best, and one of the most underrated, albums of 2020: GERG. This album is a story of accepting identity – it tells Jonah’s story. Born into a religious Ugandan family, Jonah struggled to accept his identity and come out as a queer man. This album describes just that. GERG, as he explained to me, was the secret name he saved his now ex-boyfriend as on his phone. This was done in an effort to cover up the fact that he was dating a man. If he ever got a heart emoji text from someone named GERG, his religious friends and family wouldn’t suspect him of dating a man, it could be anyone. This story is just the tip of the GERG iceberg. As you listen to this album, you’ll begin to learn more about Jonah as a person, whether it’s over intricate, catchy production on songs like “If You Mean It” and “Circulation” or on songs like “Spare” and “Smith Johnson Williams Brown”, where his voice dominates the simpler, but no less captivating production. I sat down with Jonah for an interview about his previous work, but also his future projects and next steps. He’s currently on tour with Kacy Hill and is working on a new project set to release sometime next year.
It’s been over a year since you released GERG. What are your thoughts on the album now? Do you think it’s aged well?
Yeah. I haven’t actually listened to a lot of it since I put it out since it’s a pretty accurate time capsule of my life for the four years it took to make. That’s not to say I was working on it every day, I was traveling a lot. I was in between continents and so in between I would sort of work on these songs. Lyrically speaking, I think it has. I think that people still feel the same way. People still feel isolated or out of place and so that’s why people are still discovering and realizing the album over time. I think to myself “we’ll see if people keep listening to it”. I don’t know if it’s my place to say if it’s aged well sonically. It sounds like the time it was put out and that’s for the best.
Who were your biggest inspirations and influences when you were working on the album (both musically and personally)?
I would always say Sufjan Stevens. I don’t think anyone can hear any Sufjan Stevens in my music but I really fucking love him. Everything he does he seems to have a great process. He puts out so much music. I think a lot of artists hold music back but he’s 12 albums in and I’m very very jealous. I love the brushes that he paints with.
On a personal level, I’d say my brother. My brother worked on 3-4 of the songs on the album and he’s an amazing producer. Anything he produces blows my mind. I’ve stolen and been inspired a lot from him as well.
Being emotionally vulnerable on songs like “Spare” and “Smith Johnson Williams Brown” must not be easy due to the fact that strangers are going to be listening to them. What did you do to get into a space where you can be emotionally vulnerable on a song? What advice would you give other artists that want to do this but are hesitant?
That’s interesting you say that. I try not to write with people in mind like that – that people are gonna be listening to it – I try to write for myself. I’ll probably be writing songs till the day I die, and maybe they won’t be released, but I do so to process information and process emotions. As long as you’re telling the truth, whether that sounds emotionally vulnerable to people or not, I think that’s all you can do. My advice would be to tell the truth and don’t skimp on the messy parts.
The transitions between each song on GERG feel natural despite stark differences musically. How did you choose the order of the songs? What did you do to make sure the transition between each song made sense despite the moods of the songs being different (e.g. Circulation -> Spare). Well, I actually did that mathematically. There’s a thing you can look up that’s really fascinating about how some of the biggest albums’ tempos do the same thing. They start at a certain point, they come down and then they peak again but at a place lower than the first peak. You’ll find it in albums like Random Access Memories, Innervisions, Channel Orange. Because I could hear the style discrepancies between songs, I just broke it down by tempo and mood. It’s almost like a film – you have acts 1, 2, and 3 – and it climaxes at a certain point and you always know when it’s gonna happen. When you start listening to a lot of the great albums, they all do exactly the same thing. It was a mathematical equation really and it worked out for the best. There was a point where I wasn’t sure if “Spare” was gonna go after “Circulation
Has this album found success in the LGBTQ community? Has it inspired certain members living in hostile environments to embrace their identity?
I don’t really know. I’m not sure what the metric of success is. I’ve received some really beautiful letters from people in places all over the world who are queer and who have really been suffering. They thanked me for telling the truth about my situation. I had a fan even tattoo some of my lyrics on his shoulder which was crazy. The fact that it touched anyone is a success in my eyes. I saw it as successful because it came out in the first place. The fact that anyone listening to it at all has been fantastic and the fact that, for a few people, it’s gone that extra step and helped them through a time in their life in any way is really important and cool. I’m so glad that I was able to be a part of that. It’s important that I get to tell my story as it is and exactly as I want to tell it instead of having to be an activist at all times or to feel like someone who has to be up on a pedestal. There are so many important voices along with mine. I think that as long as we stay together and we stay visible, we’re doing our jobs.
What are your plans for your next project? How is it going to differ from your previous album?
It sounds a lot different. I moved to LA recently. I feel like it’s a very Los Angeles record. There are a lot of guitars and a lot more natural sounds. We’re actually recording string sections. Sonically probably a lot more cohesive. I really like the songs so far. I feel like I’m seeking natural instruments to offset the artificiality of my new environment. I still feel very new here because most of my time here has been during the pandemic. We’re maybe 75% of the way through it. I want something to come out next year – whether that be a whole album, an EP, or a short film with some songs in it. Something to sort of show what my life looks like now. It will happen, next year maybe, spring/summer there will be something new
In the process of making an album, how many times do you need to re-record a song?
At worst I’ll record something three times and at best I’ll record something in 30 minutes. I “Smith Johnson Williams Brown” recorded in 30 minutes and never did anything to it. I re-recorded shoulders for a year because there’s 10 harmonies in every chorus and the bridge part has 20 different vocals at once and I kept having to re-record those vocals. It took a long time. When you listen to the finished thing it doesn’t sound like the case but I feel like maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe everything should sound easy but be difficult to make.
Who are your favorite artists currently? Who do you hope to collaborate with in the future?
Definitely Sufjan Stevens. I keep meeting people who know him and I’m like “hook me up”. I would totally work with him if we was down. I’ve been listening to Little Dragon a lot. I’ve been going over their album The Puma Rubber Band. It has this song “Clap Clap” on it which is incredible and the album as a whole is fantastic. Little Dragon is really cool and I’d love to work with them. I’ve been listening to this artist Yullola. She only has a couple of songs out and they’re very “vibey”, for lack of a better word. I’d love to work with her. I’d love to do something with Wet, I really like the music they put out. The music they put out recently is so good. I’m liking Lil Nas X for what it’s worth. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to work with him – we live in completely different universes. I did a lot of my first EP with Take a Day Trip who’s now doing all of Lil Nas X’s music. Now they’re out in the big time and I’m very proud. I love what they’re doing with Lil Nas X.
How did you get to know Kacy Hill? Are you planning on working with her in the future? What do you hope to gain from this tour?
I actually met her for the first time 6 years ago. We have very similar collaborators. We’re in the same little community of musicians. Many times I’ve seen her with our mutual friend Max, maybe Max is the one who introduced me in the first place. She’s fantastic. I love her and I love her new album. During the pandemic, we sent some things back and forth but nothing came to fruition or materialized. At some point it will though, mark my words. It’s been such a hellish two years and just being able to perform is great. The last show I did was at the end of February  and I want to do a lot more shows next year headlined by myself. I need to get my sea legs backs in terms of performing because I wouldn’t call myself a big performer. I think I’m really exposed and vulnerable singing in front of a crowd. There are those people at the party with the guitar but that’s not me. My dad used to have to force me to play piano for people and I had a lot of stage fright. It’ll be nice to have a friend around and Kacy’s fans are so chill that I think It’ll be a good experience. Getting out there and performing in front of people is what this tour will be good for.
The Front Bottoms’ performance at Mission Ballroom last Monday was a reminder that punk rock and roll is not dead. The genre is alive and well alright. It may not look the same as the days in which The Clash and The Ramones reigned supreme, nor does it sound like Metallica, or even Green Day. Nevertheless, fans of noise first and foremost ought not despair.
The Front Bottoms are not a new band. Guitarist Brain Sella and childhood buddy Mathew Uychich began to write music together in 2007, adding Uychich’s brother Brian to complete the original lineup. Sella and Mathew Uychich still form the heart of the New Jersey band, but on Thursday, the founding duo were complemented by Erik Kase Romero and Natalie Newbold. The next hour and a half quickly morphed into 90 minutes of exhilaration, energy, experimentation, happiness, and noise. The concert was easily the best I’d attended live in recent memory. While this distinction doesn’t really carry significant weight considering that I grew up in rural Middlebury, VT and spent my first year of college living through a pandemic, I have a feeling that it will take a while for another show to match this celebration of sound.
“You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)” set the tone for the concert, with a strong drumset backing a series of playful guitar riffs and a set of conversational based lyrics that embody any good Front Bottoms song. “West Virginia” brought hard hitting head bangs, “Jerk” crowd surfing and a sense of vulnerability through Sella’s words. Then we were into the classics. “Twin Size Mattress.” “Montgomery Forever.” “Peach.” The songs that stole my heart- each one building the excitement, the energy, and the joy on the faces of those that populated the crowd.
It’s the randomness, the human in the lyrics. I remember sitting in my room at boarding school, trying to write an English essay when Sella’s voice first reached my ears from my roommate’s Iphone 8 speaker. I was struck by the abstract, the volatility, the repetition. Lyrics like “this is for the lions living in the wiry frames of my friends bodies,” “I avoid using traditional techniques,” and “it’s snowing right now I wish it was summer” all define The Front Bottoms. They might seem pointless, unimportant, childish even. But it’s exactly this approach that makes the band relatable. It’s what makes the band identifiable. It makes them relevant. As a 21 year old kid, I don’t necessarily need wisdom in my music, nor do I desire it. No. I want friends. I want to feel someone else speaking about a sense of chaos and uncertainty. Who else gets the occasional feeling that they just need to voice their aimless and spontaneous thoughts?
“Au Revoir (Adios)” closed the show. Fitting right? One of my best childhood friends used to hate when I played that song for him. “There’s no point,” he’d exclaim. “The entire song has like 3 distinct lyrics!” I always thought he was missing the point. “That’s not what The Front Bottoms are about,” I’d tell him. I wouldn’t say I listen to The Front Bottoms to learn how to live my life for the next 10 years. No. If I wanted that, I’d turn to those podcasts from Yale professors that my mother loves to forward my way. Maybe I just want to laugh, to bounce up and down for an hour and a half, and most importantly, to listen to noise. And I think there’s some value in that too.
Adele released her previous album, 25, on November 20, 2015. After that, she disappeared from the spotlight, leaving listeners unsure when she would make music again. six years later, almost to the day, Adele’s new album, 30, will be released on November 19, 2021. However, she released a sneak peek for her viewers; her new single “Easy On Me” dropped on October 15. Let’s take a deeper dive into the lyrics and hopes for the new album!
When Adele was asked on Instagram live what her new album is about, she famously responded “divorce, babe, divorce” in her lovely British accent. But what is “Easy on Me” about? It is about the baggage that Adele has in her previous relationship, which happened when she was “still a child”, and to be gentle when letting her in.
Musically, this song was modeled after water. In the visuals of her music video, she is seen making waves with her arm outside of the car window to the song’s first line, “there ain’t no gold in this river.“ She also refers to herself as drowning in prior baggage. This metaphor is also shown vocally through runs, aka words that consist of several notes, that seem like waves. These runs are modified constantly throughout the song which shows that baggage is fluid and strong but it can also be beautiful.
I am looking forward to hearing the process of Adele‘s divorce in the upcoming album and possibly some more tributes to her son. Adele‘s infectious talent and personality shine through in her press interviews and in her music. 30 will be the best and most uniquely “Adele” album yet!