The ever-nebulous singer-songwriter genre of music is full of artists whose singing and songwriting are largely interchangeable with that of many peers. It takes a particular talent to stand out from the crowd.
Julia Jacklin does, and on new album Crushing, her skill for execution is particularly evident. In each song, she dives deep into the human experience, into the tensions that underlie everyday life. She lays bare anxieties and destructive patterns, reflects on loneliness and one-sided love, and does so with uncompromising sincerity.
The album begins with a heavy swing as Jacklin strikes back against the loss of autonomy associated with a destructive relationship. On “Body”, Jacklin’s narrator snaps after a final reckless moment, and she reflects on the potential fallout (“Do you still have that photograph? / Would you use it to hurt me? / Well, I guess it’s just my life / And it’s just my body”) in a way that will resonate with many a listener on a disconcertingly deep level. The subject matter is sometimes uncomfortable in its realism, but her delivery – straightforward and in tranquil, almost mumbled voice – makes it clear that she will not be shamed into hiding her truth.
With that said, Crushing is not an overt political statement so much as it is a series of frankly delivered personal accounts. Jacklin founds the album on her own wants and assertions, and in this clarity lies its textual strength. On “Good Guy”, she asks to be lied to on her terms only as a temporary remedy for loneliness (“Tell me I’m the love of your life / Just for the night / Even if you don’t feel it”). “Head Alone” brings back the theme of autonomy, with Jacklin singing, “I don’t want to be touched all the time / I raised my body up to be mine” as she sets boundaries with a lover.
Intimate though each track feels, Jacklin’s musical range is also considerable, built largely on the bones of alt-country but with no set genre at its heart. “Pressure to Party” is a cathartic pop-rock track that lists a number of existential worries (“Pressure to go strike out on your own / Pressure to learn from being alone / Pressure to not leave before too long”). On “When the Family Flies In”, her voice echoes in the open space left by a slow piano line. Melodic simplicity and a stripped-down aesthetic support Jacklin’s lyrics from start to finish.
Track “Comfort” ends the album on a note of sad reassurance, with Jacklin telling herself over and over that an ex-partner will be fine with time – and reminding herself that she cannot be the one to try and heal him (“I can’t be the one to hold you / When I was the one who left”). She strums the tune with the delicacy of a lullaby and sings it with her ever-wavering voice. The effect is just heartbreaking enough to make her audience take notice.
Life, love, heartbreak: none of it is particularly novel as musical material, but on Crushing, Julia Jacklin lets us learn from her experiences with her heart on her sleeve. There is a valuable perspective here, and truly moving music.