Album Review: Julia Jacklin – Don’t Let the Kids Win

Australian singer-songwriter's debut is raw, visceral, and full of devotional lyrics




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Though only her debut, Julia Jacklin’s Don’t Let the Kids Win works like a musical punch to the gut, a tearjerker that makes even the most public of spaces ready sobbing spots. Each of the album’s 11 songs sounds effortlessly polished, her voice seasoned with the emotion of an entire lifetime. Jacklin takes elements of the whip-smart lyrics of fellow Australian Courtney Barnett, the evocative musicality of Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten’s confessional poetry, and Jessica Pratt’s mesmerizing melodies — the mosaic of strengths made fresh by a unique perspective.

Album highlight “Pool Party” exudes an air of longing, wistfully discussing a dying relationship. The idea of a fun, carefree pool party is juxtaposed by Jacklin’s intense lines: “I want to give you all of my love/ But I watch you sink as they swam above.” The words relate familiar feelings with refreshing, poetic candor. “My heart is heavy when you’re high/ So, for me, why won’t you try,” Jacklin cries, then fades to a hushed yearning, thoughtfully dissecting the perils of human connection. On “Leadlight”, her vocals take a sultry turn while emitting ‘50s vibes. Smooth guitar melodies careen and halt, emphasizing each sharp word: “I love you, darling I do/ But I can’t let possession make a fool of you.” Jacklin takes our most intimate thoughts and compresses them into resonant lyrics. “Coming of Age” thrashes relentlessly with the energy of growing up — which isn’t always a good feeling. “I didn’t see it coming/ My coming of age,” Jacklin laments.

Due to her diverse strengths, Jacklin’s songs differ greatly — but where for some that may result in an inconsistent tone, Jacklin strengthens the album by honoring its emotional core at all costs. Tracks jump from genre to genre without losing their hypnotic quality. The serene “Elizabeth” pairs Jacklin’s serene voice with a tenor lilting in the backdrop. The pivotal “Motherland” discusses the trivialities of everyday life — bringing out the cooking pots and heating a home — yet it gets sobering quickly: “These new lines on my face/ Spell out girl pick up your pace/ If you want to stay true to what your younger self would do.”

Jacklin outlines a nightmarish vision during “L.A. Dream”, in which she’s left behind in a grocery store, lonely and desperate. The lyrics are stream-of-consciousness, perfectly encapsulating real fear. Vulnerability continues with “Sweet Step”, Jacklin cooing words of empowerment and expression. “Dancing for yourself ain’t bad when you’re dying/ To find/ That sweet step that will help to free your mind,” she sings. Elsewhere, “Hay Plain” finds Jacklin at her finest: quiet contemplation coupled with lyrics that shout volumes. It begins slow. The melodies and rhythms thoughtfully march towards a peak as she grapples with relationship problems and fractured longing. The end result is a polished song that exemplifies Jacklin’s artistic identity.

Don’t Let the Kids Win closes with its title track. Lyrics that at first feel generic become utterly personal. “Don’t let your grandmother die while you wait/ A cheap trip to Thailand’s not gonna make up for never getting to say goodbye,” she mourns. “Gonna keep on getting older/ Gonna keep on feeling strange,” she bristles. It’s as if she’s offering advice to her former self as much as she is the listener. Throughout, the album offers a window into her world, revealing the singer-songwriter’s most intimate corners.

Prior to focusing on music, Jacklin spent her days on the production line of a factory that produces essential oils and lived in a garage. But she didn’t just flip a switch and start writing songs. All the while, Jacklin was conjuring up melodies that can elicit smiles, reflection, and even tears. Thanks to this demonstration of the ability to craft songs infused with wisdom and wonder in equal measure, Jacklin’s staying power is strong and she’s unlikely to need to return to factories anytime soon.

Essential Tracks: “Hay Plain”, “Pool Party”, and “L.A. Dream”

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