With her evocative, uneasy debut album, Don’t Let the Kids Win, singer/songwriter Julia Jacklin found critical and a certain amount of commercial success, reaching the Top 50 of the album chart in her native Australia. The follow-up, Crushing, is also intimate and narrative-based but manages to raise the stakes on intimacy. That’s due in large part to the subject matter but also a recording directive to leave in natural sounds like breaths, instrument creaks, and refingering squeaks. On “When the Family Flies In,” for instance, the use of piano pedals and resulting shifting action can be heard alongside lyrics such as “You know it’s bad when the family flies in.” Jacklin‘s lyrics and vulnerable yet jaded vocal delivery are the primary focus, however, on a set of breakup songs that is, importantly, as much about reclaiming one’s sense of self as it is about loss.
Crushing is riveting right from the spare, noir-tinged opening track, “Body,” which remembers the moment Jacklin decided to leave the relationship after her partner got them thrown off a flight. The humiliating scene is punctuated by her wondering if he might use a nude photograph he once took of her against her; she describes the aftermath as “heading to the city to get my body back.” The album is full of similarly soft-spoken, candid, and seemingly timely narratives involving female autonomy (“I don’t want to be touched all the time/I raised my body up to be mine”). Fragile, acoustic solo songs like “When the Family Flies In” and “Convention” are contrasted by full-band arrangements, including the defiant, alt-country-tinged “You Were Right” and the rollicking but highly stressed “Pressure to Party.” The final song, “Comfort,” is a solo acoustic guitar tune that has Jacklin‘s quivering voice delivering a stream of affirmations beginning with “You’ll be okay/You’ll be all right/You’ll get well soon/Sleep through the night…” before she reassures herself that her ex will be okay, too. It’s this type of devastating emotional honesty — one that admits both strength and weakness — that, along with the performances, sets this record apart from others in its heavy-hearted category.