With her debut album, Don’t Let The Kids Win, Australian indie-folkster Julia Jacklin proved herself to be an exciting talent. With lyrics that alternated between sweet as marmalade and sharp as a knife, she gave listeners a mix of potent pop songs and ballads as witty as they were relatable. Crushing, you could say, is more of the same. But that would be to ignore an evident deepening of the songs on offer. Jacklin’s material hasn’t evolved as much as it has undergone an enriching process, an addition of soul, social awareness, and a sense of self-assurance.
From the opening bars of Body, the track which begins Jacklin’s latest album, it becomes clear that we’re onto something special. It’s measured in a way that some of her original output wasn’t. She lets herself breathe into the song. She builds, her voice low and lulling the listener in. And all the while we are being dragged into a story of a young woman at the mercy of a misogynistic ex-boyfriend, smoking on a flight and getting them arrested, taking naked photos of her that she fears he might use against her all these years later, making her into somebody she doesn’t want to be. The song ends with the repeated refrain of ‘I guess it’s just my life, and it’s just my body.’
It’s a haunting opener, and its theme will repeat and repeat throughout the album. Second song, Head Alone, features a chorus of ‘I don’t want to be touched all the time, I raised my body up to be mine.’ You Were Right tells the story of an ex who was ‘always trying to force my taste’ in music, food, and everything in between, until the protagonist realises she ‘started feeling like myself again, the day I stopped saying your name.’
It’s a theme that is central to society and the music industry at this time, and the way that Jacklin addresses her self-identity and the need to escape the clutches of the controlling male marks this album out as something that many contemporaries could only dream of.
Other themes do rear their head throughout the album, and Jacklin proves equally prepared to tackle them. She shines particularly brightly on the slow, mournful When The Family Flies In, a song which addresses the sudden loss of a loved one and the need to fill the spaces they leave behind. One verse about having sent an ‘irrelevant music video’ to someone just before they died and knowing that she’ll ‘always wonder if you watched it’ is particularly powerful. Again, she shows that she can inspire empathy and emotion without falling back on the cliched messages of so many songs that came before.
In Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You, Jacklin tackles the problem of knowing somebody so well that there is no longer any surprise in your relationship. She continues to prove her lyrical prowess with some thought-provoking one-liners and again manages to maintain a sense of control and poise while telling a tale that will likely resonate with a lot listeners.
I could go on. This album barely has any low points, but I won’t bore you by going through the intricacies of each and every song. Go and discover them for yourself. For this particular reviewer, Jacklin is at her strongest on the slower, more solemn and thoughtful songs. But without the few more upbeat tracks, she would risk sounding monotone. With that in mind, it would appear that she is now not only more in control of the individual songs but also the arc of the album and the progression of her career. Bring on the next album.
Word by Fran Slater.