It doesn’t take wisdom to know that young people worry about aging too. There’s worry about careers, about marriage, about lost youth and glimpsing mortality. Julia Jacklin, a 25-year-old singer-songwriter from Australia, is no exception.
Again and again on her debut album “Don’t Let the Kids Win” (Oct. 7), she exposes her preoccupation with the passage of time and her own place within it, all through a shimmering altcountry-folk lens. The collection of songs has sprung from something like a quarter-life crisis, written while Jacklin worked at an essential oil factory in a suburb of Sydney, but it’s also a denouncement of that type of nostalgia. Now, while Jacklin is far from famous by music industry standards, she’s on an international tour that brought her through Philadelphia last night (Sept. 27).
At first listen, Jacklin bears an unmistakable resemblance to Angel Olsen, who released her second album, “My Woman,” earlier this month. Both possess voices that seem to float somewhere above the music behind them; both can pick up the pace and turn gritty when the situation calls for it.
But Jacklin is less likely than Olsen to obscure her feelings, or maybe those feelings are just more easily packaged. That’s not to take anything away from her artistic integrity. On the piercingly simple title track, which concludes the album, she implores herself to make better decisions by reflecting on past mistakes.
“Don’t let your grandmother die / while you’re away,” she sings. “A cheap trip to Thailand’s not / gonna make up for never / getting to say goodbye.”
And the chorus feels like an accurate conclusion of the album’s overall moral, if one can be drawn: “I’ve got a feeling / this won’t ever change. / We’re gonna keep on getting older, / it’s gonna keep on feeling strange.”
Jacklin’s interest in time and the end of her youth dependably seeps through other songs on the album. On “Small Talk,” she assumes a casual tone for verses both playful and tragic in the span of a single sentence.
It starts: “Zach Braff you look just like my dad / back when I thought I had the best one. / Oh what a life it could have been: / me in the cradle, you on the screen.”
But, she realizes, that hypothetical is not based on a linear reality. Zach Braff is too young to be her father, or so she says (Braff is 41 and she’s 25; while probably not biologically accurate, it’s still poignant). “Don’t Let the Kids Win” brims with pithy revelations — some more serious than others. On “Pool Party,” the lead song on the album, she pleads with an immature lover to follow on her growth spurt, seemingly to no avail.
“Oh I wanna give you all of my love, / but I watched you sink as they swam above. / You are the land and I am the dove. / My heart is heavy when you’re high, / So for me why won’t you try?”
“Don’t Let the Kids Win” is an easy album to listen to both because the concept is straightforward and because Jacklin’s writing comes across so airy, so filled with light. She’s angsty but apparently not so bogged down by depression, as many singersongwriters of past and contemporary eras are.
There’s hope there, real hope, both within the album and outside of it. Here Jacklin emerges as a newcomer with high-ceiling potential like few demonstrate on a debut, and in the coming years, we’ll see how high that ceiling really is.
Screenshot from Jacklin’s YouTube for her song “Pool Party.”