Julia Jacklin has always been a daydreamer. At the age of 12, she wanted to be a pop star like Brittany Spears, and then later in life she wanted to be the best social worker on the planet. The dreams would linger, but they started to come to fruition following a trip to South America during her gap year. The expedition saw her reconnect with her high school friend Liz Hughes, and the two started to write music together. Their collaboration eventually led to the formation of Phantasic Ferniture, and they covered their year off in an aptly titled song.
Jacklin’s daydreaming ways, however, would continue. Working on a factory production line making essential oils will do that to a person. There was more that the native from Australia’s beautiful Blue Mountains region wanted to achieve. Plenty of stories for her to tell. It wasn’t until she met Adrian Slattery of underrated Aussie band Big Smoke, whom we’ve covered previously, when she received the push to make the big leap. As Jacklin wrote on her Facebook page:
He introduced me to his music community in Melbourne, talking my music up to anyone who’d listen, making me feel like maybe there was a place for me in it. He invited me up to sing with him a few times, an incredibly joyful performer, looking sideways at him whilst singing his beautiful song “Stranger to You” in front of a packed Old Bar crowd has to be one of my favourite music memories.
After years of daydreaming, Jacklin’s debut full-length has finally arrived in the form of Don’t Let The Kids Win. The eleven-song, forty-minute LP is a triumph. It radiates with the artistic splendour of Lucinda Williams’ vast catalogue. The emotionally deep charges of Angel Olsen’s biting ballads percolate across the record. Other times, Don’t Let The Kids Win reaches the warm intimacy that June Carter, Patsy Cline, and Loretta Lynn trademarked, such as on the classically-influenced “Small Step”. The album is as diverse of a collection of alt-country, indie-folk, and indie rock you will find this year.
Julia Jacklin’s daydreaming ways, however, have not ceased with the release of her debut. Instead, it has provided the 25-year old singer-songwriter an opportunity to share them with us. “Small Talk” epitomizes Jacklin gazing distantly into space, as she sings about Zach Braff as a younger reincarnation of her father and Catherine Deneuve as an older version of her mother. The song, though, goes deeper than replacing her parents with famous people, as she reflects on what was and romanticizes what could have been her childhood.
The stark and haunting “L.A. Dream” feels like the screenplay to a future Hollywood movie. Featuring just Jacklin and her guitar, the atmosphere is brooding yet mesmerizing, complementing her story about being trapped at the grocery store. The setting, however, is an analogy for unrequited love, as Jacklin is just one possibility in a sea of them. Likewise, the dreary “Same Airport, Different Man” has a cinematic vibe. On this song, Jacklin takes on the role of Quentin Tarantino to tell the story of a traveling man, who has seen all, lost everything, and has no identity. It is a brilliant display of gripping storytelling within a film-noir setting.
These songs reflect the darker side of Jacklin’s mind, but also demonstrates her versatility. Her more “light-hearted” fare, though, is just as fascinating. The album’s opener and lead single, “Pool Party”, is strikingly beautiful. The warm melodies, the jangly guitar notes, and Jacklin’s innocent vocals are enrapturing. Yet the song is one of heartache, about a relationship that is falling apart and all Jacklin can do is dream about how to keep it from ending. As she sings, “My heart is heavy when you are high, so for me I want to try.”
Fifties and ’60s vibes shimmer on the delicate but infectious “Leadlight”. But unlike “Pool Party”, Jacklin makes no promises about sticking around if things don’t improve. As her sultry vocals tell us, “I love you my darling, I do! But I cannot promise I’ll be here to see this whole love through.” The one “rocker” on the album, “Coming of Age”, is exactly that – about how fleeting time is and realizing that at some point one needs to grow up. The song echoes Angel Olsen to the core with the gritty textures and the witty lyricism.
In an album full of highlights, three particularly stand out. The introspective “Motherland” is stunning in its instrumentation and vast lyrical imagery. The song begins sombrely, as Jacklin reflects on a simple life and her daydreaming days. As the song builds into its breathtaking melody, Jacklin achingly sings about opportunity and moving forward, “When will I ever see the land? Will I ever see the land? The ground will give me something, I know that it can.”
The album’s penultimate track, “Hay Plain”, is a brilliant epic and arguably Jacklin’s masterpiece. Like an engrossing drama, Jacklin takes us alongside her as she recants the perfect love affair that is no longer. The dissonant guitars and the crushing drumming of her good friend and Phantastic Ferniture bandmate Tom Stephens add to this emotional roller coaster. While the relationship comes crashing down, feelings of redemption and relief are sprinkled in with the sense of uncertainty. The realistic capturing of the contrasting feelings is among Jacklin’s many strengths, and it is expounded on this momentous single.
Closing the record is the title track. Partially introspective and another part advice to younger and older people, “Don’t Let The Kids Win” is a celebration of life and living in the moment. The song is more meaningful than what the lyrics let on. It was the last song Jacklin sang to Adrian Slattery, who sadly passed away in May from oesophageal cancer. The song, as such, is not so much about Jacklin, her friends, or those who are older or yet to experience old age. It is a tribute to her friend who taught her to live her dreams, to live each day, and to unabashedly celebrate being an artist. Jacklin will likely always be a daydreamer, but her friend lit the fire in her. He ignited a passion that has made Jacklin one of music’s fastest-rising stars with one of the year’s most inspiring and remarkable achievements.
Don’t Let The Kids Win is out everywhere right now. Transgressive Records (UK/Europe/Asia), Polyvinyl Records (North America), and Liberation Music (Aus/NZ) are the supporting labels. Get the LP on iTunes (AUS | NZ | US | UK | CAN), Amazon (US | UK), and eMusic, or spin it on Spotify.
Julia Jacklin is in the midst of a lengthy tour, having just completed the North American portion. She will be heading to Europe at the end of October before returning to Australia and New Zealand for a few shows. Concert dates are below.
Julia Jacklin Tour Dates
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