Before she began her encore performance, Julia Jacklin tilted her head back and looked up towards the ceiling. If you followed her eyes, they stared up at something beyond the rafters, the ceiling or the flashing red disco ball in the center of the room. Her hands strummed over a butterscotch telecaster, like oarsman (or woman in this case) in a boat gliding down a river, bringing a cathartic rhythm to the room. Jacklin was reaching, reaching up for the living breathe of her songs, almost like a prayer, to call them down upon her, as if she could manipulate the weather to bring rain, snow or thunder down upon her. This feeling is reminiscent throughout much of her music.
The Australian singer-songwriter, who played to a full crowd at the Roxy Theatre on May 23, creates a disarming version of indie rock that hangs on her tragic, tender vocals. Jacklin has a voice that commands full-attention with the purity of a violin accompanied by a soulful fringe and an indie introspectiveness. There is a folk quality to her songwriting stemming from its honesty and simplicity. It captures listeners and holds them in stasis as the song unfolds.
If I was a bug, her voice would be the flickering neon sign guiding me through the night. The songs are tender and vulnerable; they look at the break-up cycle of relationships with a depressive comfort.
It’s the emotionally immediate quality of her voice and songs that makes them so effective. Jacklin has a masterful command of dynamics. Her music builds up and then strips down in an organic way. The songs can go from loud to quiet, fierce to tender, outpouring to inward-looking in an instant, while her sultry voice keeps listeners hanging on the whole time. The lyrics of the songs, most of which came off her latest album Crushing, all mirror this high-low dynamic, as they deal with the highs and lows that correspond to an end of a relationship.
Standout songs from her set included the rocking “Pressure to Party,” which has smart lyrics about the pitfalls of re-entering the social and dating world after a breakup, as well as “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You,” an honest examination of how love can fade in a relationship. The latter showcases some of Jacklin’s best lyrics: “every gift you buy me,” she sings, “I know what’s inside / What do I do now? / There’s nothing left to find.” The song is so vulnerable, so open in instrumentation with a simple chord progression, resonant bass, and sparse drumming, that the listener can’t help but feel to be swimming in the song along with the band, all guided by Jacklin’s voice.
When the songs steer away from their organic sounding roots, they lose some of their power. Songs like “When the Family Flies In” and “Why Won’t You Turn Me Down” sound a bit too intentional. The melodies are intricate, but don’t stick as well as other songs of Jacklin’s. They do show, however, a growing versatility and ambition in her music.
The crowd who came to see Jacklin at the Roxy was a decent mix of young and old, hipster intelligentsia and regular folk. One guy with long black hair and over-sized hoodie looked more like he belonged at a Suicidal Tendencies or a Metallica concert. The mood was light and cheerful.
With the room at the Roxy in stasis, Jacklin went from song to song until the end, but the crowd wouldn’t let her go without an encore, and even though Jacklin told the crowd she was sorry for playing a song that was a bit of a downer (in content not quality) to end the night, the crowd only cheered louder.