Julia Jacklin — Crushing ANALYSIS & REVIEW
This is one of the most melodically captivating albums I’ve heard come out in the last couple of years. It’s even more of a gem given the use of a timeless, acoustic dominant texture that foregoes an attempt to sound relevant, which allows for the focus to be on Jacklin’s intuitive melodic fluidity and cozy atmosphere. In many ways, this album works backwards to what has generally been the goal of new musicians today, in that it takes little to no advantage of the modern endless available sonic palette with no dramatic big-picture cultivation, and instead spends its energy trying to sell the rather microscopic ideas of melodic shape, rhythmic pattern, and guitar technique. This is all done under the umbrella of being as soft-spoken and genuine as possible. Overall, I think it paid off.
The melodic success here deserves some good evaluation and explanation. Jacklin was able to take these rather unassuming, undecorated guitar foundations and breathe strong life into the music by her fearless movement through register and emphasis on arrival points within each line. While variety was found in overall tempos and dynamics, what stayed constant was Jacklin’s use of highlighted highs and lows of a phrase, which always built some form of energy regardless of its surroundings and gave off nice feelings of connected beginnings and endings. She used diatonic tones as spread out landing spots, having the feeling of the line’s target objective, rather than simply stringing together a bunch of consonance.
To my ears, the downfall of the work was the way in which the electric guitar was used. For many musicians, a clean electric guitar sound seems to be used merely out of necessity, as it may be the only instrument the musician owns or has available. This album, while produced in a bigger light with a more prominent musician, still had the feeling of electric guitar being but the default and not necessarily a conscious choice. While the playing came off as effortless and tasteful, I found it a bit off-kilter at times that a soft-spoken, thin texture, subtle mood had the poignant, crunchy, restrained sound of the electric guitar in the forefront. The song “When the Family Flies In” showed what the rest of the album missed by having the piano as the main harmonic instrument instead, which suited the softer touch and dynamic better. On the other hand, the song “ You Were Right” showed where the electric guitar fit the best, which was in a thicker texture, louder dynamic atmosphere.
That’s quite a specific negative, and aside from that and the lollygag vi-I seesaw progression in “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You”, nothing really stuck out as being a detriment. The song “Pressure to Party” was excellent; the driving pedal-tone guitar, cool melodic syncopation, the fall and landing to scale degree “mi” in the verse phrases, the opening to the subdominant in the chorus, and the overall melodic development of adding a more tension-filled second line through the form was all quite delightful. That’s another example of a song that felt like a nice, balanced sound with electric guitar firmly in its element, having nothing become too busy or intricate.
Nothing on this album is too revolutionary, and the same general tactics and atmospheres are also done to a high degree in plenty of music over the last 50 years. That doesn’t factor in at all to what I think the album’s worth is, though, especially not today when I’m craving a refreshing taste of what the music world once was. It has strength in one crucial area, that being melodic shape, and it carries the work enough for me to say it’s a worthy listen for anyone, and surely one of the better albums of the year.