DON’T LET THE KIDS WIN by Julia Jacklin
Favorite Songs: “Coming of Age,” “Hay Plain,” “Leadlight”
If there’s one major thing to take away from Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin’s debut album DON’T LET THE KIDS WIN, it’s that there’s not a lot to take away from it yet, but that Jacklin has spectacular potential as an artist. When listening to DON’T LET THE KIDS WIN, it’s difficult to escape simultaneously feeling like we’ve heard what Jacklin is offering before from the likes of Neko Case and Laura Veirs (that is, indie- and country-tinged folk accompanied by solo guitar and sung in an untrained but soulful mezzo soprano), while also feeling that Jacklin is something else entirely. A plethora of influences are clearly present, most notably alt-country artists like Gillian Welch and the previously mentioned Case and Veirs, as well a touch of the disaffected and anxious slacker persona of fellow Aussie Courtney Barnett, and a hint of the stereotypically “hipster” faux-vintage stylings that millennials are often known for. The album’s cover art, featuring Jacklin in the den of a modest, largely brown-and-beige room clad in bright red lipstick, a slightly-too-large t shirt, plaid mini-skirt, and white sneakers, presents her as having a slightly more glamorous version of Barnett’s anti-cool coolness. Jacklin’s music does largely the same, coming across as a unique mix of her influences that promises a bright future even if she isn’t ready for her close-up yet.
The main thing that gets in the way of DON’T LET THE KIDS WIN being as good as it can be is that there are too many down-tempo, guitar-driven songs that tend to blend together. Jacklin comes really, really close to pulling these off, as her voice is lovely and her guitar playing is appropriately understated, but she doesn’t seem to be as confident in her lyrics, or else is possibly just less willing to lean on them. Her vocal performance on these songs, while demonstrative of her talent, doesn’t really extend towards the audience in the way it needs to in order for these songs to connect. She’s a bit too restrained in her delivery, as if she is singing with her eyes closed. This seems like a possible aesthetic choice, but even so, it puts up a wall between her songs and the listener, and though it seems paradoxical, she must be more confident in her choice if it’s going to work for her. Some have a genuine aesthetic preference for the kind of music on this album, and those listeners will still enjoy it immensely, but the process of listening to several songs like “Motherland” or “Same Airport, Different Man” is a difficult one to stay invested in.
Despite the flaws, there’s a lot to like about DON’T LET THE KIDS WIN, and about Jacklin in general. The moments where she comes out of her shell, like in the midst of “Hay Plain,” are magical and emotive, and an indicator of the kind of performances that Jacklin has withheld in her. Though she doesn’t seem to be as confident in them as she should be yet, Jacklin’s lyrics are top-notch, and she is almost certain to grow into one of indie’s best storytellers. Other songs where she displays slightly more musical ambition, such as “Coming of Age,” also stand out — her voice sounds just as good, if not better, against a full band, and the fullness of the sound behind her brings her songs to a new level.
It feels strange to recommend DON’T LET THE KIDS WIN based on the artist’s potential and not the merits of the album itself, but there’s just too much to like about Julia Jacklin’s voice, musicality, personal style, and writing to pass this album up. It’s rare for such a distinctive and talented artist to pop up in this area of music, and she has the potential to far surpass her influences. To put it shortly, Julia Jacklin is an artist you want to know, and with a little more ambition and a little more practice, she will be an artist that you won’t stop hearing about.