Album Review: Julia Jacklin – Crushing

I only had my eyes opened to Julia Jacklin a couple of years ago, but like the drunk teen that gets his eyelids glued to his forehead, it is not that easy closing them (that eyelid thing is not based on real-life experiences…honest!). Jacklin has been conducting a lot of interviews to promote her new album, Crushing, and has talked about the honesty and openness that runs throughout. Like all the great albums from modern-day singer-songwriters, there is a mix of the personal and sociopolitical on Crushing. Sydney-born Jacklin made a huge impact with the early singles ‘Pool Party’ and ‘Coming of Age’ and received serious airplay! A success and favourite here in the U.K., she quickly won the hearts of D.J.s and fans and it was no surprise the album, Don’t Let the Kids Win, topped many best-of-the-year polls in 2016. That mixture of confessional and dreamy was already established on her debut album and, different to the sea of singer-songwriters out there, Jacklin’s beauty, personality and unique lyrical style resonated hard. Don’t Let the Kids Win received a smattering of positive reviews here, and whilst some in her native Australia were a bit mixed, Jacklin rose through the ranks and took her music around the world.

It has been over two years since her debut album and, since then, Jacklin has brought joy to countless established and freshly-converted fans. ‘Comfort’, the latest single from her new album, shows some evolution and new additions. Containing all the bedrocks of Jacklin’s sound – that beautiful and striking voice; the frankness and stirring words – it adds in new sonic colours and sounds, I dunno, more confident and defined than some of the material on her debut album. Crushing is an album whose title has a multitude of meanings. In fact, every possible meaning can be applied to the record – from an emotional weight and pressure to romantic lust and crossing boundaries. Rather than concentrate solely on personal woes and stresses – as so many modern artists do! – there is a distinct sense of electricity, new-found romance and excitement nestling through the album. Jacklin, on her second full-length, addresses the expectations placed on her and defies them. Produced by Burke Reid (Courtney Barnett, Liam Finn) and recorded at The Grove Studios, there is something incredibly evocative and close in the album – you can hear Jacklin breathe and detect every instrument telling its story without confinement and polish!

Also in interviews, Jacklin has discussed her debut album and how she did not feel completely sure of her direction – and how she was a bit nervous. Now, after some time and acclaim, Jacklin knows she deserves to be where she is and, as such, Crushing is a more explorative and assured record. With lyrics challenging, emotionally-rich and highly open, I was excited to dive into Julia Jacklin’s new release. ‘Body’ is a wonderful start to Crushing. Jacklin, as promises, almost kisses the microphone. There are some similar-sounding female voices out there (Brits Lucy Rose and Billie Marten among them) but none that have the same sensual and velvet tones as Jacklin. On the song (‘Body’), the heroine talks of someone looking “so proud” and being desperate to “call a friend”. There is a tale of a lost weekend and Jacklin being on the Sydney tarmac – tossing her luggage down and leaving her beau. There is almost a tinge of classic females singers from 1950s Jazz, such is the purity and grace of the song.

‘Head Alone’ – already released as a single – nods in a different direction is more spirited and shorter than the opener. Instantly memorable and accessible, Jacklin speaks of independence, having some personal space and not being touched “all the time”. A song’s hero asks for another drink to clear his head and, as the song progresses, Jacklin builds these interesting visions and scenes; always a vivid and descriptive songwriter! Jacklin has said, regarding the album’s creation, she really loved hearing it back and had a great time recording it. One can hear this on ‘Head Alone’: that balance of loving someone with your head but needing to have some time to reflect now and again.

‘Pressure to Party’ completes a bold and exciting opening trio of songs and, rather than limit herself to talking about party pressuring, Jacklin rattles off a list! She speaks of the pressure to chat and being in love again; the pressure of regaining confidence and being on top – she sounds, rather wonderfully, at her most liberated and expansive on this song. There are no weak moments on Crushing: on every cut, Jacklin explores new territory and does not limit herself. ‘Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You’ features some tantilsing Blues-like guitar licks and, once more, Jacklin takes her voice down – one can almost get the sense of being right close to her and having the song whispered in the ear. I like the programming of the L.P. and how we get a nice blend of softer songs with the fired-up offerings so that we are never too exhausted or calm.

‘When the Family Flies In’ is one of the most interesting songs Jacklin has recorded. Almost like a lost cut from Nils Frahm’s album, All Melody, she uses the piano in a similar fashion: stripping it bare and allowing the listener to hear the full impact and nuance of every note. There is this sense of foreboding – it is troublesome when the family flies in just to “stand by your side” – but one gets this real sense of emotion and outpouring from a wracked and revealing Jacklin! ‘Convention’ offers some form of emotional recovery and uplift but, like so many of Crushing’s best moments, there is focus on the engaging and spellbinding vocal force of the heroine. With little more than an acoustic guitar following her, this is one of the most memorable and bare songs from her. The stories and characters introduced on ‘Convention’ are at once familiar and completely tangible.

Whilst songs such as ‘Good Guy’ and ‘You Were Right’ have a similar pattern and feel to other songs on the record, they have their own skin and definitely warrant repeated listens! Between them, they cover unrequited love and that need to be appreciated. Jacklin said Crushing is her talking about lust and desire and, even when softly-singing, she is scintillating, bristling with curiosity and utterly engrossing. ‘Turn Me Down’ and ‘Comfort’ take the album down in perfect fashion. The former has woozy guitar that almost reminds me of Soundgarden’s ‘Black Hole Sun’ – until Jacklin comes in and takes the song in a more Country/Alternative direction! Many might notice there are few songs (on Crushing) as catchy and singalong as ‘Coming of Age’ to be found but that is no bad thing! Jacklin still brings fun to the party but, on her second album, she introduces more complexity, maturity and range. ‘Comfort’, arriving at the end, shows how much she has blossomed as a songwriter. Such is the power, detail and colour of the lyrics, you are sucked into her world and helpless to resist the power her voice projects. On the swansong, Jacklin sings “I’ll be okay/I’ll be alright” and, although she seems sad, you believe her and only want the best for her.

Crushing is a more complex and multi-layered creation compared to Don’t Let the Kids Win. If her debut was more about seeing people around her grow and have new responsibilities – as Jacklin lived a very different life – then Crushing is about Jacklin addressing the vagaries of love and affection; embarking on new challenges and, as a woman and songwriter, forging her own path – and not being slavish to what is required of her. Jacklin tours through the U.K. in late-March and early-April (there are seats free at many of her U.K. shows) and will head to Europe after that. It is clear the world loves Julia Jacklin and, after one listen of Crushing, you can understand why! It is an album that urges reaction and revelation after one spin but different discoveries emerge the more you listen.

This year has already produced some stunning albums and Jacklin’s latest surely ranks among the very best! Maybe the period between her debut album and now has been transformative and, at times, hard but the songwriter has managed to funnel that into some of the most heavenly and imperishable songs I have heard in a long time! If you want to discover a record that is from the heart and offers far more than you could possibly imagine then grab a hold of Julia’s Jacklin’s Crushing.

Crushing is available from 22nd February through Transgressive Records. Pre-order here.