“After writing two albums and a book about grief, I feel very ready to embrace feeling” is what Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner told Pitchfork earlier this year when describing the Jubilee album released in June. And feeling she does on the first few songs that are a masterclass of alterna pop. “Paprika” uses a marching band drum, horns and a wonderous chorus where she exclaims “oh, it’s a rush!” “Be Sweet”, the first single, is another upbeat gem that asks “be sweet to me, baby”. “Kokomo, IN” is a misty eyed indie pop song along the lines of Camera Obscura that adds strings to provide a sense of longing with a tinge of country.
Those first three songs are near perfect so it’s hard for the rest of the album to match those heights but a few songs come close. “Sit” uses tension in the verses whereas “Savage Good Boy” uses humour to speak of the villians in the world who make far too much money. Not only has Michelle Zauner recently released this album, but the Korean-American also published her first memoir in April that is already a New York Times bestseller. An incredible body of work in just the first half of the year.
There is a great mythology around the first Bon Iver album, For Emma, Forever Ago. After watching his former band break up then contracting mono and a liver infection, Justin Vernon moved away from Raleigh, North Carolina and back home to Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Like a Jack Kerouac type figure, for several months Vernon stayed at his Dad’s cabin in the woods and worked on the songs that would form this debut album. The album was self released in 2007 then later re-released by Jagjaguwar in early 2008.
“Flume” is the track that turned Vernon’s music career around. Working with an acoustic guitar and experimenting with a falsetto for the first time, it opened up more possibilities to be vulnerable with an added effect of tracking his own vocals to sound like a choir. First single “Skinny Love” sees Vernon tell a partner “I told you to be patient….and I told you to be kind” in a relationship that doesn’t have a lot of weight to it. “What might have been lost” turns “The Wolves (Act I and II)” into a mantra of sorts. Both “Lump Sum” and “Blindsided” feature memorable guitar hooks while “For Emma” adds a nice addition of horns.
For Emma is mostly an acoustic album and one that is added to by the story surrounding it. It can feel claustrophobic at times but also celebratory as a young man works through the troubles in his life alone. Justin Vernon has gone on to work with James Blake, Kanye West and most recently with Taylor Swift while also curating a music festival in Wisconsin. A lot of that success started with this album that is included in Rolling Stone magazine’s most recent top 500 albums of all time. It is a lowkey standout album from the first decade of the 2000s.
The cover of St. Vincent’s new album features Annie Clark in stockings, lingerie, and dyed blonde hair looking seductively at the camera with the title Daddy’s Home in a 70s font. The reality is far from the fantasy being presented. The title is a reference to her father returning home after being in prison for several years for fraud. On the title track, Clark turns visiting her dad in prison into one of the more intriguing tracks on the album where she “signed autographs in the visitation room/waiting for you the last time, inmate 502”.
On her sixth album, St. Vincent presents several soulful funky tracks. “Down and Out Downtown” is a laid number about coming home the morning after the night before. It does a better job than the opener and first single “Pay Your Way in Pain” that strives to sound like Prince but it’s electro-funk comes up short. The album gains some steam towards the end with “Candy Darling”, a quick two-minute ode to the Andy Warhol actress.
The songs that work best are the ones where Clark looks inward. On “Somebody Like Me” she asks over an acoustic guitar “Does it make you a genius or the fool of the week to believe enough in somebody like me” and adulthood hits on “My Baby Wants a Baby” where she wonders “what would my baby say, I got your eyes and your mistakes”.
“…at the holiday party” is intended to be a modern take on the The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. While it is not as great as that classic, it is a really cool track about the pharmacy that some have in their purses. There are a few bright spots on “Daddy’s Home” as St. Vincent is far too talented not to show her skills but the sub funk/R+B tracks are not the area where she excels. Co-produced with Jack Antonoff, Daddy’s Home is a rare miss for both.