Julia Jacklin: Crushing
By John Martin
Julia Jacklin has always worn her heart on her sleeve. The Australian singer-songwriter first drew listeners to her confessional brand of alt-country with singles like “Pool Party” and “Coming of Age” off of her 2016 debut Don’t Let the Kids Win. Wise beyond her years, Jacklin waltzed in ¾ time, mourning the loss of her youth in what bordered on a musical midlife crisis. On her sophomore album, Crushing, she hones that aged and wondrous energy, tightening her focus on love’s disillusionment and eventual dissolution. With a voice that can bring you to tears and guitars that can cut you apart, she explores the complications of her own breakup and ruminates on the version of her life that follows.
An intentionally vague title like Crushing practically begs the listener to explore its plurality of meaning: crushing on someone, crushing something physically, the feeling of being emotionally crushed by an indescribable weight. And while Crushing is certainly a new entry in the canon of great breakup albums, Jacklin is going for something more heart-wrenching than typical relationship drama. The album opens with sobering stillness. On the opening track “Body”, Jacklin tells, in vivid clarity, a story of getting thrown off of an airplane after her boyfriend is caught smoking in the lavatory, all while marching deliberately to a pounding kick drum and a thundering bass line in a style reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”. She languishes, “Right there on the Sydney tarmac/I took my luggage down/Said ‘I’m gonna leave you/I’m not a good woman when you’re around’”, as if to grab listeners by the shoulders and inform us that Crushing is not going to be a joyous endeavour.
That’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom. Instead, Crushing is a prism, refracting a full spectrum of sentiments one can feel after a breakup. Jacklin longs for stasis on “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” (“I want your mother to stay friends with mine”). On “Good Guy”, she pleads to a hook-up, “Tell me I’m the love of your life/Even if you don’t feel it,” although she sings “I don’t ever want anyone to take your place” about her ex-boyfriend earlier on the album. “Pressure to Party” finds her grappling with internalized anxieties about how to behave in the wake of a failed relationship. In a hearty yelp (almost a yodel), she rails against phrases like ‘you gotta get back out there’ and resolves to be isolated until she “[tries] to love again soon”. It’s frenzied moments of elation like these that portray her as more of an agent than a victim.
Jacklin draws a throughline of body reclamation and self-empowerment throughout the album. On “Head Alone”, she virtually screams “I had your back more than I had mine!” through breathy sighs as wailing guitars create one of the most cathartic moments on Crushing. But instead of fixating on regrettable devotion, she flips the script. Later on the ironically titled “You Were Right”, she sings “I started listening to your favorite band the night I stopped listening to you”, as a veritable ‘fuck you’ to her ex. Though Jacklin laments formerly being accommodating, she frames her path to self-ownership as both physical and mental. With lyrics like “I don’t want to be touched all the time/I raised my body up to be mine”, she entangles the shift toward empowerment with the rejection of oppressive physical touch. And in doing so, Crushing is as much of a lyrical masterclass as it is a feminist triumph.
This roaring energy comes to a climax three minutes into “Turn Me Down”, where her voice builds from a whimper to a demand while repeating the titular phrase in a cascading melody. Reports say that Jacklin broke down on the floor of her studio while recording takes of this section. If it weren’t so awe-inspiring, the song would honestly be painful to listen to. But in Jacklin’s hands, the pain is mediated by striking confessional narratives and songwriting that could stop you in your tracks. The final moments on Crushing are as solemn and entrancing as the first, culminating in a statement of resignation: “I can’t be the one to hold you/When I was the one who left.”