Julia Jacklin: Don't Let the Kids Win

Scott Wallace
5th Oct 2016

The album cover and charming publicity shots surrounding the debut album from Glebe-based singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin find the singer posing almost uncomfortably in the kind of wood-panelled living room that many of us may remember from our childhoods. It's nostalgic, right down to Jacklin's conspicuously white socks and sneakers that a child might wear, but her studied awkwardness suggests something else. As you listen to this incredibly beautiful and mature record, it becomes apparent that Don't Let the Kids Win is a fight against the stasis of nostalgia - boldly insisting on moving forward.

Jacklin's songs are almost invariably in the past tense. The album's two opening tracks, the singles "Pool Party" and "Leadlight" are both half-lit slow dances in 6/8 time, with Jacklin's lyrics taking on the odd refraction of memory that invests them with overwhelming emotion. Immediately Jacklin and her band prove themselves adept at dynamic exploration, with the gentle rhythms swelling and receding in time with Jacklin's gorgeous and supple alto."Leadlight" is particularly stunning, with the group piling up sudden humps of melody like scuffed carpet.

Jacklin has said that she expected the record to be a heartbreak record, but it does not tend to dwell or wallow. Downcast reminiscences like "Same Airport," are tempered by brighter moments like the upbeat and smart "Coming of Age" and the luminous, exploratory "LA Dream." The production by Ben Edwards, who has also worked with folk-rock artists like Aldous Harding and Nadia Reid, is warm and cosy - not unlike that wood-panelled living room. The rich sound enhances the sense that the record is pensive but optimistic, offering a contagious contentment.

There is little in the way of drama. To some, Don't Let the Kids Win will be a sleepy, insular record, but it rewards close listening with its detailed arrangements. Take, for example, the electric guitar that hovers around the acoustic beauty "Sweet Step" like bursts of cinders, and the deep, resonant harmonies that bring it to a close. Jacklin's compositional acumen and lithe voice separate her from other singer-songwriters of a similar vein, and adds a certain muscularity to her music that is reminiscent of other strikingly centred and unique singers like Bonnie Raitt or Stevie Nicks.

The pair of tracks that close the album are its peak. The graceful, six-minute "Hay Plain," has a subconscious roar like car wheels on bitumen, and seems to jolt the record out of a deep reverie into the present. The closing title track, following on from the former track's emotionally cathartic climax, looks toward the future. Its bright guitar chords and fluttering vocal harmonies are lighter than air, leaving behind the awkward prepubescent playacting that informs so many of the album's songs and themes and stepping into adulthood. Julia Jacklin has arrived.

Don't Let the Kids Win is out on CD, vinyl and digital formats on Friday October 7th. You can catch Julia Jacklin and her band live at Fairgrounds Festival in Berry (taking place December 2nd and 3rd) or at Oxford Art Factory on Friday December 9th, where she will be joined by Gabriella Cohen.