There is good reason to talk about how the new Julia Jacklin album takes her beyond the alt.country/Americana bracket she was placed in rather awkwardly last time around.
With its forays into almost urgent indie rock and slowcore intensity, and her singing stretching her beyond low-impact torch balladeer, Crushing doesn’t add colours to a narrow picture so much as spread the screen wider to see more of what had been lying there.
It’s true enough that the album begins with a moody walk through early morning streets, in Body, that feels pressed close, ends with a lost waif wandering down a dirt track in Comfort, that has the feeling of a song told around a low burning campfire, and approaches its halfway mark with a country rock slow burner in Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You that wears its old boots with confidence. Those who attended to her first album, Don’t Let The Kids Win, will recognise some elements.
However, the airy context of songs such as Convention (which could be a trippy folk passage of wistfulness) and When The Family Flies In (more a Cohen-esque soliloquy), as much as the inner Melbourne shuffling rock of You Were Right and Pressure To Party (the songs which seemingly contractually obligate everyone writing about them to mention the sainted Courtney B, though I reckon you shouldn’t forget Liz Phair) put Jacklin in more varied territory.
So, yes, there’s stuff to talk about there. But the really fascinating part of Crushing, the part that doesn’t just separate Jacklin from others but elevates her, is her ability to land so many lyrical blows. There are lines here that smack you out of the blue, some which let off delayed charges in your head minutes or hours later, and some which make you think whoa, that didn’t emerge without leaving a scar or two on/in her.
It’s already been called a breakup album, a post mortem on an end reported in part in “silence, weak telephone reception” from “my Corolla, talking to you while my friends drank inside”, that would not have been easy. After all, “you know it’s bad when the family flies in just to stand by your side”.
But Crushing would more accurately be called a state of play in interpersonal dynamics, a report from the field of shit that happens when people in 2019 meet, fall, fight, fade, and fall away.
Take this image from Body which couldn’t be more right now, yet its final line comes with generations of chattel discarded and small man revenge behind it. “I remembered early days when you took my camera/turned to me, 23, naked on your bed looking straight at ya/do you still have that photograph/would you use it to hurt me? …I guess it’s just my life, and it’s just my body.”
That line, this permanent imbalance, resonates even more when in the next track, Head, Alone – a song where the protagonist recognises her almost automatic acts of deferral, her ceding ground of importance to her lover - Jacklin sings that “I don’t want to be touched all the time/I raised my body up to be mine”, and says, as if sighing, “Yeah I’ll say it til he understands/You can love somebody without using your hands”.
Not that Jacklin necessarily believes that with knowledge comes comfort, any more than with knowledge comes understanding. “I don’t know how to keep loving you, now that I know you so well,” she says in a line worthy of Aimee Mann whose “now that I’ve met you, would you object to/Never seeing each other again” was even more frank and brutal.
And that is from a song where the ambiguous feelings at the end of a relationship are so cleverly delineated. “I want your mother to stay friends with mine/I want this feeling to pass in time.”
It isn’t necessary to be paired-up, or even just dating (does anyone “date” anymore, or does saying that really date me?) to feel the truth of some parts here. Whether that’s the emptiness of being encouraged to start again described in Pressure To Party (“It may look to you like I’m not even trying/I know I’ve locked myself in my room, but I’ll open up the door, try to love again soon.”) or the bitter taste of being lectured to by a “superior” being: “What can I do to change myself for your sake … I don’t want you here, you make me feel so small and I disappear.”
Yet, Jacklin does sneak in some parched dry humour in the album too. “Oh please say something, I’m dying for your advice, I can tell you won’t sleep well if you don’t teach me how to it right.”
There isn’t a resolution offered in Crushing. There certainly isn’t a solution. There is though a beginning of renewal, albeit wrapped in a kind of denial, or at least a deferral of the truth when needs must.
“I don’t care for the truth when I’m lonely, I don’t care if you lie/Come on, breath in, breath out, you’re still a good guy.”
That may sound like a beginning, a wonky, even dangerous one, but maybe that really is an ending.