Julia Jacklin doesn’t want to be the type of artist that preaches to her listeners. Her sophomore album, fittingly titled Crushing, is full of dialogues that Jacklin herself has with her family and friends. Crushing is a story, one where the Sydney-based artist discusses her bodily autonomy. Don’t Let The Kids Win, Jacklin’s 2016 debut album, was existential but sometimes unsure. Now, she’s self-assured. She’s finding space for herself in a cluttered indie rock scene. With only two albums under her belt, Julia Jacklin is already rising as one of Australia’s finest songwriters.
“Body”, Crushing’s stunning first single, is life-affirming. The music video is seemingly simple: a beautiful road trip through Hay Plain (situated halfway between Sydney and Adelaide), Australia. Julia Jacklin seems to appreciate the “nothingness” of the area; it’s truly the middle of nowhere. But, the views are breathtaking. Jacklin and lifelong friend Nick McKinlay – director of the video, spent 14 hours in the car, leaping out whenever they saw something unique. Speaking with Kristy Guilbault at NPR, Jacklin explained, “Whenever I listened to this song, I knew the clip had to be a driving one, destination unknown.”
The results of the song combined with the video couldn’t have been better. “Body” was one of my favorite songs of 2018, sending tingles down my spine the moment I heard it. Julia Jacklin’s voice is simply ethereal. “Body” is unlike anything she’s ever released. It’s pure energy kept under control. Her guitar lightly swells, the drums remain restrained, the tambourine and brooding synths entering as she wearily croons, “heading to the city to get my body back.” Her exasperation at women being shamed for body confidence (“do you still have that photograph? Would you use it to hurt me?”) is evident, I can almost see her drop her shoulders and sigh, particularly when she repeatedly sings, “I guess it’s just my life, and it’s just my body”. In the next two songs, though, Julia Jacklin is incensed, on her way to recapturing her agency.
The one-two punch of “Head Alone” and “Pressure To Party” is genius. Both songs are anthems, showcasing a fierce side to Jacklin that fades during the remainder of Crushing. They also follow one of the key themes of the album: seizing your autonomy. “Head Alone,” to Jacklin, is “the musical equivalent of me just throwing my arms wide open and running into an empty car park and screaming at the sky.” She’s begging for some space. It’s an undeniably lush song, until an invigorating time change that sees her almost scream; “you can love somebody without using your hands.” Her conviction is powerful, as is her run to freedom in yet another picturesque music video. “I don’t want to be touched all the time / I raised my body up to be mine” is such a sharp couplet, one of many Crushing has to offer. “Pressure To Party” is rollicking, and will surely have her audience dancing when Julia Jacklin is back on tour within days. She liberates herself against societal expectations of getting back out there following a break-up. “Pressure To Party” wouldn’t have been out of place on Angel Olsen’s My Woman. It’s the perfect balance of Jacklin’s humor and melancholy, wrapped up in unapologetic vulnerability.
From “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You” onwards, Crushing practices restraint in producing a raw, heartbreaking atmosphere. “Body” was my favorite Julia Jacklin track before I heard “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You.” Like “Body,” it hardly rises above a gentle swell. Her voice is silky smooth, pleading, “I want your mother to stay friends with mine” before pondering if she should make alterations, in another devastating verse: “what if I cleaned up? What if I worked on my skin? / I could scrub until I am red, hot, weak and thin.” Crushing doesn’t let up. “When The Family Flies In” sees Jacklin directly address dealing with loss, employing the contemplative grief of Mitski’s “Two Slow Dancers.” In “Good Guy,” Jacklin is content with being loved for a night, even if you don’t mean it. Crushing is an apt title for the vivid, devastating 40-minute journey this album takes listeners on.
Julia Jacklin recollects herself yet again in “You Were Right.” She takes control of her choices, on her way to eradicating another’s opinion from her own. “Started listening to your favorite band / the night I stopped listening to you” she shares, listening because it’s her decision. “Started feeling like myself again / the day I stopped saying your name” she sings later, rediscovering her individuality aside merry guitar. Without a doubt, Julia Jacklin has found her flair for confessional songwriting. Penultimate track “Turn Me Down” tracks heartbreak on a two-day trip to Melbourne. Subsequent to a false ending, Jacklin delivers her most gorgeous vocal performance yet in a near yell. Slumped and fragile, she sends out a final gut-punch: “don’t look at me, look at the center line / maybe I’ll see you in a supermarket sometime.”
All of Julia Jacklin’s energy is depleted by the time we get to “Comfort.” Accompanied by a single acoustic guitar, she closes Crushing with a message of hope. It won’t hurt forever. Jacklin assures, “you’ll get well soon,” that “he’s gonna thrive” and “cured with time.” She leaves us with a loving, nostalgic sentiment, asking: “are you thinking of me too? I was so happy all those years with you.” By the end, it’s hard not to feel, well, crushed. Crushing is a meditative effort that hones in on Julia Jacklin’s various strengths. She exhibits her playful humor, ear for hypnotizing melodies, and resonant commentary, without fail. Her candid reflections will never leave me.