“Crushing” is the second album by Julia Jacklin, an Australian indie/folk singer, whose first album “Don’t Let the Kids Win” was a real favourite of mine in 2016. I first caught a glimpse of her and her band at End of the Road in September 2016, and have seen her quite a few times since. “Don’t Let the Kids Win” was a beautiful, wistful album threaded through with a real pop sensibility, as well as melancholy. The underlying music was fairly simple and gave plenty of space for Julia’s expressive vocals – she has an impressive range.
So I was looking forward to this new album, and seeing her live again, after a break of a year or so. When I heard it was called “Crushing” I immediately thought it was going to be, if anything, even more melancholy than the first. The word can mean a lot of things. If it was the title of a metal album it would be all about stomping enemies into the dust, or something equally preposterous. It could be construed as having crushes; but you kind of knew that with Julia Jacklin, it would mean that she had felt crushed by something or someone, and wanted to sing all about it. And so it proves.
There’s a really interesting interview with Julia in the excellent Loud and Quiet magazine, Issue 131. And yes, “Crushing” is primarily about the breaking up of a long term relationship and the aftermath. It is incredibly sad in places, heart-wrenching; but there is also defiance, a claiming back of herself, the tentative steps towards a new life, and some hope. You listen to the lyrics, imbibe the melancholy sounds and take in Julia’s intense, fragile singing, and it’s hard not to feel the hurt along with her. But, but… it’s not miserable or whingeing. It’s not depressing. It’s too beautiful for that. It’s ultimately uplifting. You feel with her, and associate with the defiance and hope, as well as the hurt.
It’s an album that you have to listen to a few times, to get beyond the downbeat aspect to it. But there are things which jump out straight away, as well as the revelations from repeated listens. The first song I heard was a single, “Head Alone”, which is one of Julia’s Americana sounds, and has some defiant lyrics about how she doesn’t want to be touched all the time, how you can love somebody without using your hands. A song for our times, and one in which Julia demonstrates her vocal range, effortlessly. The next single was another upbeat one soundwise, “Pressure to Party”. This one really rocks along, and, like “Head Alone” is post-breakup, part of the recovery. Fighting the pressure to just get out and be “normal” again. I’ll open up the door and try to love again soon. But when I first heard the whole album, the song that jumped out and got me first time was “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You.” It is just so heartbreakingly sad, but also has a couple of wonderful, fuzzy guitar breaks, which are straight out of the Neil Young songbook – or to draw a more recent analogy, Angel Olsen, on her mighty song, “Sister”. Angel’s song had a really long solo at the end; I really wanted the second break on “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” to be the same. It isn’t, and I’ve got over the disappointment – it’s still my favourite song on the album. In fact it’s my favourite song of the year so far. It gets me every time.
The breakup was hastened by an incident on a plane apparently, when Julia’s boyfriend was arrested for smoking in the toilets. The opening song of the album, “Body”, tells the tale in some detail. She sings in a deep, mournful tone. There’s something hypnotic about it. A song full of loss and regret, but also some of that defiance: heading into the city to get my body back. Fear too, that some photos of her body might one day find themselves on the internet. Another song for our times.
As with “Don’t Let the Kids Win”, there is a strong sense of family in Julia’s songs. There’s a wonderfully touching line in “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” which goes, I want your mother to stay friends with mine; and the song after that is called “When the Family Flies In”. You know it’s bad when the family flies in. This is real life. I’ll be interested to see how Julia handles it on stage. She says in her Loud and Quiet interview that it all happened some time ago, so she feels detached from it now. But can you really be? I’m missing her London show because of other commitments, but I’m glad to say she’s on the Latitude bill, so I’ll be able to see how some of the new songs are portrayed there.
There are three more songs I want to mention. They are part of the recovery sequence, but there is still a lot of anguish. “Good Guy” is a plea for affection: tell me I’m the love of your life just for tonight, even if you don’t feel it. Conversely, “Turn Me Down” doesn’t want to go that far. There’s a really affecting moment towards the end of the song as Julia’s voice goes as high and vulnerable as it can, as she implores the person in question not to tempt her. The interview says that she found this very hard to sing and kept on breaking down in the studio. You can sense the hurt as you listen. It’s a lovely song at the same time though. “You Were Right” takes a firmer stance – the resistance begins. It’s about saying, yeah you were right about how cool that place was, and I can go there on my own now. The closest thing on the record to a f*** off song. Appropriately it’s one of her more uptempo tunes.
You can listen to this album and just enjoy the melodies, the rhythms and the beautiful singing. You don’t have to wallow in the lyrics and feel the pain. But the pain is there, along with the defiance and determination to get things back on track. And to stay in control. Her body seems to be a metaphor for that control in a few of the songs, and she says in the interview that she thought about calling the album “Body”. Actually, I think “Crushing” works as well. In one sense she has been crushed; but she’s dealing with it, and she’s getting the crushes again. Exposing yourself on a record in this way seems pretty brave to me, although she’s far from the only one who does. So much of the great music has come from artists sharing their pain with us. Julia Jacklin’s “Crushing” stands in that fine tradition.
Here’s a lovely rendition of “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” which is on YouTube. So good!