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Julia Jacklin, Pre Pleasure ★★★★☆

On her excellent sophomore album, Crushing, Julia Jacklin looked at a series of failed relationships with critical self-examination. Three years later with Pre Pleasure, Jacklin takes a softer approach. “Am I going to get lost again? / I like the person I am,” she sings on the remarkable song I Was Neon, wondering if a new relationship is worth it. Her previous work has explored female desire and guilt as women view themselves sexually through patriarchal lenses. Here, those lenses are happily shattered.

The musician comes to I Was Neon after unpacking her formative years on the album’s early tracks. Jacklin was born in the Blue Mountains region of Australia, attending a strict Catholic school as a child. While she shunned her religious teachings, she embraced her musical teachings, joining the school choir and participating in school productions. Later, at the University of Sydney, she found her voice in various bands before writing her first solo album, Don’t Let The Kids Win. Filled with cutting, coming-of-age songs with evocative, narrative storytelling, Jacklin helped reinvent folk and Americana, bringing the genres back to Gen Z alongside Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus.

Sweet piano track Lydia Wears A Cross sees Jacklin questioning her guilt-ridden Catholic upbringing while intricately layered Ignore Tenderness explores female pleasure through the male gaze. “Just when the fun begins / my education creeps in,” Jacklin sings over simple guitar and minimal percussion, remembering “all that conflicting advice” thrown at women about bodies and sex: “be mean but don’t drive well.”

By the time the magnificent Magic arrives, Jacklin refuses to be ashamed of a sexual encounter after years of guilt dating back to his youth. The opening notes of the song are reminiscent of The National’s Terrible Love and see Jacklin declaring, “I won’t be ashamed tonight…I’ll feel adored tonight.” It’s a song that sounds like love itself; it’s also the voice of someone more at peace now, after his tumultuous 20s and aged 31.

Her newfound freedom also seems to have inspired her creatively. She wrote songs on the piano for the first time and experimented with lush sonic layering – such as on End Of A Friendship with its soaring string section courtesy of Owen Pallett of Arcade Fire. Its musical touchstones are also broader – the album’s upbeat, stomping guitars are reminiscent of Courtney Barnett and there are hints of Richard Hawley on Ignore Tenderness too. This song is one of the most beautiful that Jacklin has written. I’m Too In Love To Die is the only new venture that doesn’t quite land, its shockingly dark and anthemic heaviness.

It’s Jacklin’s most personal offering to date and while the pain of extracting her soul for such material is clear, through these diary-like confessionals, so is her catharsis. Elizabeth Aubrey

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