It’s easy to imagine historians of the future looking back at the ‘quarter life crisis’ as a phenomenon specific to the early 21st century. A result of increased expectations enforced by older generations who with the other hand have taken away the very same opportunities. Julia Jacklin’s debut is most recent in a string of albums to tackle that weird, uncertain period in your twenties and offers a response that is admirably stoic in the face of adversity.
Until recently Jacklin spent her days working in an essential oils factory while living in a suburban garage. While artists of previous generations could afford to dedicate themselves to their art, many musicians now find themselves having to balance menial jobs in order to support themselves in pursuing their passions. This creates the uneasy combination of the real world slowly encroaching upon you but still not quiet being old enough to willingly let go of your youthful dreams. Don’t Let The Kids Win asks the fundamental question is the pursuit of art is really worth it? Is it better to just settle down to live an ordinary but stable and happy life? The conclusion Jacklin comes to is that this uncertainty never really ends, and if you choose to continue you have to learn how to live with it or let it defeat you. On ‘Coming of Age’ she assures us “I’ll be pushing up that hill / Till I get what’s mine / Now I’m going to learn this new stage”.
But it isn’t all hand wringing about the unstoppable force of time passing. Songs such as ‘Lead Light’ are illustrations of Jacklin’s knack for beautiful and evocative detail and imagery. While ‘Same Airport’ is an effective piece of minimalist storytelling, forcing us to fill in the gaps. Jacklin offers a collage of images of her passing through a single airport at different points in her life, creating a vivid portrait of her growing up and her perspectives and wants changing as she does.
Jacklin has credited Angel Olsen as an influence, perhaps the most popular songwriter to bringing country and folk into the indie rock sphere that Jacklin also works with. But lead single and album opener ‘Pool Party’ is perhaps a little too indebted to Olsen. Baring more than a just passing similarity to the melody off Olsen’s song ‘Unfucktheworld’ which opened her 2014 album Burn Your Fire For No Witness. But luckily, almost as if the anxiety of influence has been exorcised in that opening track, Jacklin spends the rest of the album developing a voice that feels, for the most part, very much her own.
Jacklin’s sound is a carefully curated collection of old timey signifiers with its expert blend of folk and 50s and 60s pop. Right down to the bland 70s décor of the living room she’s sat in on the album’s cover, everything is perfectly curated to create the impression of a by gone era that would make any vintage enthusiast green with envy. While these are at their core simple songs with simple chords and immediate melodies, there is a subtle complexity to the instrumentation that raises the songs to a higher level and mean it still continues to reward multiple listens. After a couple of red herrings that make you think the song is coming to an end, ‘Hay Plain’ breaks into a coda of lush harmonies evoke the expansive sky and landscape the music feels like it is travelling through or simply baring witness to. ‘Leadlight’ delicate guitar motifs between the sections of the song create one long fluid movement like a swaying slow dance between two lovers.
The album’s title track and its closer is appropriately offers the albums central moving message. What starts off as offering advice about allowing your kids to fail so they can learn how to deal with the hardships of life, morphs into an appeal to never miss the opportunity to express your love for someone, because who knows if you will ever get the chance again. Life is scary and often sad but the only real tragedy would be to forget all those who are living it right along beside you: “This won’t ever change / We’re going to keep on getting older / It’s going to keep on feeling strange”. The important word in the lyric is “we”. Jacklin’s music is full of a compassion and wisdom that is far beyond her years. Personally, I can’t wait to see her grow older as a musician.
Read our New Music Q&A with Julia Jacklin HERE.