Let’s face it, the 2019 music industry isn’t exactly devoid of indie singer-songwriters. Given the over-saturation, it requires something special for artists in the genre to stand out. On her sophomore album, Julia Jacklin makes a compelling case to separate herself from the rest of the pack, as she unloads cluttered feelings over graceful guitars and elegant arrangements. Crushing almost hits all the right notes, and it’s recorded, mixed, and produced impeccably. The album sounds incredibly warm and rich, which keeps the momentum going even when the songwriting stutters, as it does slightly during the middle segment.
Jacklin’s lyrics are a consistent highlight. ‘Give me a full-length mirror, so I can see the whole picture’, she sings on the feminist-fueled “Head Alone”, before going into the standout refrain of ‘I don’t want to be touched all the time, I raise my body up to be mine’. Indeed, Crushing is a personal and reflective record, but one that also tackles the overwhelming level of sexism that exists within the industry. While this is an intimate breakup album, its subject matter will likely resonate with multiple listeners. Despite the pain, and in spite of the many vulnerabilities, Jacklin finds peace purely by discovering herself.
Half way through penultimate track “Turn Me Down”, after a brief stage of silence, there is a stunning standout musical passage. Jacklin’s emotional plea practically turns into a howl by the end. It’s a moment that stops you in your tracks, like a punch to the gut, and I only wish there more of them. These flashes of brilliance are rare, but certainly enough to make Julia Jacklin one to watch.
7 out of 10
If all of Crushing was as good as its opener it’d probably be one of my favourite releases of the year. “Body” introduces the record with broodiness and elegance, and is a bit of a false dawn. Its slow, shimmering mix draws you in immediately and the instrumentals shape themselves around Jacklin’s vocals, which are beautiful. It’s a superb track.
Most of what follows is a couple of levels below. That’s the record’s main issue really. It’s one big pleasant plateau. A song like “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” should hit harder than it does, but the choruses are delivered at exactly the same pace as the verses. The same is true of “Good Guy”, which stays perfectly level from start to finish. The album’s colourful, hazy sound is pleasant enough but more often than not Jacklin feels like a passenger in her own songs. It’s not until the gentle crescendo of “Turn Me Down” that you get a second glimpse of Jacklin at her best. In a better album it would be a wonderful climax. In this album it only serves to highlight what’s been missing for the 30 minutes prior.
In all Crushing feels like a personal diary in indie folk form. You can probably count on a diary to be sincere, even intimate, but there’s no guarantee of it being interesting. The same is true here. For every tender, captivating moment on Crushing there are solid stretch of murky, pedestrian folk rock in the same vein as Courtney Barnett. It is a sound many connect with — and fair enough — but it isn’t for me.
6 out of 10
Crushing stood out from the rest of this week’s singer-songwriter releases from the first few seconds. The well-rounded, warm production grabbed my attention, proving that the rhythm section doesn’t always have to sound like tin cans and rubber bands in this genre.
While an album focussing on a breakup isn’t a new idea, Jacklin manages to provide something compelling with her lyrics. Reframing and reflecting her feelings on the situation makes for some captivating passages. “You Were Right” does this particularly well as the singer reconsiders many of the long-held opinions and decisions made within the relationship. “Turn Me Down” makes for one of the best moments across the tracklist, breaking out into Jacklin alone with her guitar and erupting into an emotion-filled swell as she describes her internal monologue.
Tracks earlier on in the album like “Pressure To Party” are probably those that pass me by most easily. Taking on a Courtney Barnett style without as much punch, the instrumental tends to be busier, often detracting from the vocal. The instrumentals are otherwise lush, warm and satisfying and are a big part of what makes this an enjoyable album.
Crushing is good at what it does, in a time where singer-songwriters are ten a penny, Julia Jacklin has created an album that stands out from the crowd. It doesn’t reach heady heights or make grand proclamations, and I’m unsure whether it will have the staying power that other releases will this year, but it’s made for a wonderful listen this week.
7 out of 10