Julia Jacklin - Pre Pleasure (Transgressive Records)

Julia Jacklin – Pre Pleasure (Transgressive Records)

“Surely it’s love like this that keeps us alive?”

A line from ‘Too in Love to Die’ that marks the mid-point and beating heart of Julia Jacklin‘s third album, Pre Pleasure.

The Melbourne-based artist has a reputation for directness in her songwriting, with lyrics that can pierce through the most guarded of hearts. While debut Don’t Let the Kids Win and 2019’s Crushing both concerned themselves with the bitter complexity of human relationships, Pre Pleasure asks the same existential questions with a little more ease than angst.

Jacklin recorded the album in a short, frantic period in Montreal, teaming up with co-producer Marcus Paquin and her Canadian touring band (including The Weather Station members) after an epic Crushing tour. The majority of Pre Pleasure she wrote on a Roland keyboard in her Montreal apartment, which extends her previously guitar-based confessional sound into new territory. Opener ‘Lydia Wears A Cross’ introduces this step change with Jesus Christ Superstar nostalgia and glittering memories of a young girl trying to make sense of the duplicity of religion. “Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me / go on now you try it”, Jacklin sings against a sparse drum machine and piano backing. There is a vulnerable stillness drawing us into the scene: a low school bench, sitting with knees together, feeling pretty in our costumes, singing words we don’t quite believe.

This struggle with what is true and pure flows throughout Pre Pleasure, like a call to let go and reach out to some invisible outstretched hand. The insistent, pounding chorus of ‘Love, Try Not To Let Go’ , for example bristles with such anticipation and the possibility of happiness, only to ebb away into faded piano refrains. However, letting go seems senseless when experience and education tell you not to and ‘Ignore Tenderness’ reflects on the humiliating, dark side of sexual intimacy:“Go put ice in your mouth/let them slap you about/ go on choke yourself out”. As Jacklin explores all the compromises women have to make for tenderness, subtle chimes and Owen Pallett‘s gorgeous, sweeping string arrangements provide a rush of warmth in the chorus that ultimately lifts the track up to a more hopeful closure.

With its solid rock beat, driving guitar and major seventh dips, ‘I Was Neon’ is the pithy backbone of Pre Pleasure, as Jacklin weighs up the personal cost of embarking on a new relationship: “Am I gonna lose myself again/ I quite like the person that I am”. The tensions between the heart and mind play out differently on ballad ‘Too in Love To Die’ where a mid-flight panic attack prompts declarations of love. The rockier ‘Be Careful With Yourself’ tenderly masks its devotion and expresses love and fear in code:“we have to try to be prepared for things changing/I’ll keep the car in the drive if you maintain the house/Let’s keep all our doctor’s appointments/Give voice to our doubts”. Elsewhere, ‘Moviegoer’ spins its sorry tale frame-by-frame, Eleanor Rigby style, steeped in imagery, brushed hi-hats and hushed saxophone.

‘Less of a Stranger’ provides the least expected sucker punch on the album. A candid acoustic tribute to the connection between a mother and daughter, it examines the hazy boundaries between being a child and becoming an adult and what that means for expressions of maternal love: “Sometimes I wonder do I intimidate her/ do my questions and my pain take like skin to the razor?” In a subtle twist of symmetry, ‘End of a Friendship’ turns this question around; what makes grown people become like children? As she dissects the reasoning for letting a friendship die, Jacklin pores over the hurt and misunderstanding caused by leaving things unsaid: “All my words are caught up in a cloud/ You know someday you’ll have to say them out loud.”

Love isn’t perfect. It is messy, uncertain and temporary, but it gives life meaning. On Pre Pleasure, Jacklin leaves us in no doubt that she has considered human relationships from all angles and has exactly the right words, whether whispered in silence or shouted above a hail of guitars and cymbals, to make us feel it all too.

‘Pre Pleasure’ is released on 26th August, via Transgressive Records

Photo credit” Mick Mckk


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