Julia Jacklin – ‘Pre Pleasure’ review: dry wit and tender imperfection

The Melbourne-based indie singer-songwriter’s third album is a paean to self-awareness and considered curiosity

On Julia Jacklin’s impressive third album there’s a recurring lyrical motif of looking in the mirror, and the singer-songwriter understands what she sees. “Been staring at my own reflection,” she sings with a nimble cadence on ‘Ignore Tenderness’, “ever since I was 13 I’ve been pulled in every direction”. There have been obviously turbulent years since, but across these 10 songs they’re processed with dry wit, tender imperfection and genuine insight.

On her previous album, 2019’s ‘Crushing’, Jacklin examined physical disassociation on headline tracks such as the piercing travelogue ‘Body’. It was a record about the difficulties – painful or absurd – of living in your own skin. ‘Pre Pleasure’ turns inward, with creative assurance, so that the psychological becomes a shared experience. This is not an album where trauma is incomprehensible, some kind of barrier to batter yourself against. Rather, ‘Pre Pleasure’ is a paean to self-awareness and considered curiosity, Jacklin showing her appetite for construction.

Jacklin co-produced the album with Marcus Paquin (The National, The Weather Station), relocating to Montreal and bringing her songbook to completion with a Roland keyboard instead of her usual guitar. The new circumstances add to Jacklin’s assuredness. On ‘Be Careful with Yourself’, where guitar lines alternately squeal and simmer, Jacklin counsels someone she cares about to stay safe. “I’m making plans for my future, and I plan on you being in it,” she declares, intertwining the playful and the profound.

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The palettes are varied on ‘Pre Pleasure’. The mood can be lacerating or sweet, giving or guilty. “Am I going to lose myself again?” Jacklin wonders on the fuzzy crunch of ‘I Was Neon’, “I quite like the person I am.” The studio tones also veer into the eclectic, spanning the sepulchral keyboards of ‘Too in Love to Die’ to the concussive electronics that rear up in ‘Love, Try Not to Let Go’ and transform the country-tinged arrangement (bonus marks for the echoes of Fleetwood Mac in the vocal melody).

The lens for Jacklin’s art isn’t always interpersonal. She dissects the institutional influence of the Catholic Church, which loomed over her childhood. ‘Ignore Tenderness’ in part reckons with how her upbringing twisted her sense of sexual satisfaction, while opener ‘Lydia Wears a Cross’ sets a curious child against the vast theology and defining rituals of a Catholic primary school. Jacklin understands what she was up against – when the rhythm section and tingling electronics take over the song, it’s not condemnation but consolation for her younger self.

Jacklin’s powers of examination reach a bittersweet peak on the magnificent acoustic lament ‘Less of a Stranger’, where she delves into the maternal bond with piercing acuity. “I’ll never see you in the wild,” Jacklin starts, going on to vividly illustrate the gap in age, eras and responsibility between mother and daughter. The song moves to the other side of anger, where understanding is hard-won and change is hoped for instead of demanded.

Making it through your twenties is a herculean task, if only because you’re rarely aware of what you’re up against. Jacklin holds all these crucial moments in her hands, so that the closing, self-explanatory ‘End of a Friendship’ unfolds without rancour and strings illuminate the gorgeous chorus. ‘Pre Pleasure’ is an album where the pieces the artist has been left in do fit back together. The songs, and the songwriter, are a cohesive whole. The many questions here come with striking answers.

Details

  • Release date: August 26
  • Record label: Liberation Records
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