Crushing, Julia Jacklin, review: songs that stop you in your tracks

Crushing is Julia Jacklin's second album
Crushing is Julia Jacklin's second album

Sometimes a song is so good, it suspends time. It freezes the listener in the headlights of emotion. Body, the opening track of Julia Jacklin’s second album, Crushing, hooked me from the opening lines: “The police met the plane/ They let you finish your meal…” A bass and guitar move slowly together, creating a sinister tension as they uncoil beneath an intimate vocal, drawing the listener in to a closely observed narrative of domestic disharmony, building to a quiet epiphany.

When a boyfriend is kicked off a flight for smoking in the lavatory, Jacklin has a sudden realisation that their relationship has no future: “That’s when the sound came in/ I could finally see/ I felt the changing of the seasons/ All of my senses rushing back to me.” It is an extraordinarily cinematic scene-setter, with as much attention to detail as a masterful short story. The song pushes further still, with anxiety about past intimacies leading to a defiant reclamation of physical and emotional territory: “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.”

Body is the opposite of the kind of hook-laden, classically structured singalong pop that draws attention to itself. It is a peculiar little vignette, yet, with a ring of hard-earned truth, it is quietly devastating.

Jacklin is a 30-year-old Australian singer-songwriter, working in an increasingly crowded field of fragile atmospheric indie. Her spiritual godmother might be Cat Power, but Jacklin has a touch of countrywoman Courtney Barnett’s rock swagger, too, with hints of something raw and unbridled that keeps listeners on edge. It is not a particularly modern style, unlikely to set charts alight, but done well it has real emotional potency. And Jacklin does it very well.

Crushing is a break-up album, forensic in its analysis of the causes and aftermath of a failed relationship. This is well-trodden terrain but Jacklin’s focus on physical agency lends it contemporary resonance. “I don’t want to be touched all the time/ I raised my body up to be mine,” she asserts on Head Alone. Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You is a powerful song about the boredom than can infect long-term relationships. Pressure to Party, Convention and Good Guy struggle with the guilt of self-inflicted pain. “You can’t be the one to hold him/ When you were the one who left,” she sings on mournful closer Comfort.

As a body of work, Crushing feels small, intimate and inward. But these are big songs, full of big ideas, from a big talent.

Crushing is released by Transgressive Records