Autonomy can be damn frightening. The realization—the one arriving after a breakup, before a solo move, following a graduation, etc.—that you’re actually in this thing alone and only you are in the driver’s seat can leave you feeling scared silly.
Or it can leave you feeling high on independence. Julia Jacklin’s Crushing is a striking search for self, a call to upend that which tethers you down. But it’s also rooted, deeply, in a sense of calm. The Aussie songwriter’s ability to process emotion is out-of-this-world sharp, and this album is her best, most piercing work to date. Crushing can change from melodic balladry to anthemic rock at the drop of a hat. And for its entirety, Jacklin, slowly gaining cred as one of the most underrated singer/songwriters working, basks in a newfound clarity.
It begins with one of the most stirring album openers I’ve ever heard. “Body” is thumping, cleansing, devastating—a breakup ballad for certain, but also a song about reclaiming oneself. Jacklin recounts the comedown (come-up?) with grace, even as everything falls apart on a “Sydney tarmac.” “I said ‘I’m gonna leave you,” she sings. “I’m not a good woman when you’re around.” That kind of admission takes some guts, but it’s so worth it: “I felt the change in the season, all of my senses rushing back to me.”
“Body” is a special one, but each of Jacklin’s songs has its own individual narrative—she allows herself the space to tell a story in full, even if it requires an extra verse or two. These songs are so jam-packed with brilliant imagery and rich detail I’m fighting the urge to devote a paragraph to each. “Head Alone” feels like another vivid chapter in Jacklin’s road to self-reckoning, not to mention a provocative advertisement for body autonomy, in a time where it can often feel like women’s rights to their own bodies are under threat. “I have your back more than I have mine / I want you to feel good all of the time,” she sings, hesitantly, before later declaring, “I don’t want to be touched all the time / I raised my body up to be mine.” There’s so much power in that statement, and in this one: “I’ll say it ‘till he understands / You can love somebody without using your hands.”
“Pressure to Party” could easily have fit in on the energetic record Jacklin released last year with her band Phantastic Ferniture, an album that frames youth like a big party. But this is a bustling anthem that says “Forget parties, and to hell with social pressures,” especially those that come with being in your 20s. “Nothing good can come from me drinking,” Jacklin admits.
“Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You,” what Jacklin says is her favorite song on the record (even though “that changes everyday”), is a revelation. Studded with bluesy, cathartic guitar solos, it’s a song about being trapped in comfort, about chasing a sun you know is going to set anyways. “Don’t know how to keep loving you,” she sings. “Now that I know you so well.” But, again, Jacklin marches fearlessly ahead, through the pain, the loneliness, “into the darkness, or is it the light?” This is one of those songs that leaves me wondering, “How does she get on stage every night and bear her whole, entire soul?”
The tempo slows in the album’s middle parts, only to pick back up again with the fiery “You Were Right,” full of even more clever soundbytes. “Started listening to your favorite band and I stopped listening to you,” Jacklin sings. And the steadier, storyful “Turn Me Down” has the assured air of some of the older material by Courtney Barnett, the elder Aussie guitar hero who no doubt paved the way for young artists like Jacklin.
Crushing is the brave story of a woman—and an artist —coming into her own. Securing that agency, however, was no walk in the park. Jacklin clearly had to sort through mountains of wreckage to arrive here, but the album’s autobiographical nature is what makes it so affecting. Jacklin said, in writing it, she realized “how not very special” she is (evident in “Body,” as she sings, “It’s just my body / I guess it’s just my life”). But in recognizing the non-exclusivity of her experiences, she made something singular.
Watch Julia Jacklin perform in the Paste Studio below.