Julia Jacklin contends with the impermanence of life on the aching To Perth, before the border closes and CRY
The empty expanse of life since COVID-19 has provided ample time for self-reflection for us all and Julia Jacklin is no different; we’re just lucky that one of Australia’s finest modern songwriters makes us privy to hers. After 2019 was her best year so far, her sophomore album Crushing finding unanimous and wide acclaim, the quietness of 2020 will have been a source of discomfort. Sub Pop thankfully asked Jacklin to take part in their wonderful and iconic Singles Club (Eddie Vedder, Father John Misty, and Terry are just some of the names who also contributed this year) and ‘To Perth, before the border closes’ and ‘CRY’ are her contributions.
Jacklin was in the process of bringing to an end her mammoth world tour when COVID-19 first hit back in March. Within a week, the closure of state borders provoked a hasty decision about where to base herself; the title ‘To Perth, before the state border closes’ explains what happened. The guitar line is tentative and tender, mirroring the contemplative nature of Jacklin’s words. The rhythm is steady, unfurling into a rousing climax, before returning to relative calm again. Jacklin’s indie-pop has always been coloured by a country-twinge and ‘To Perth’ is no different: it closely recalls the similarly-themed ‘Always Changing’ by the American country-folk artist Esther Rose.
It’s also worth checking out the video Jacklin directed and edited for ‘To Perth’. It features an array of semi-apocalyptic landscapes, empty and run-down spaces, and footage of the exciting and hopeful news (alas) that Donald Trump had tested positive for COVID-19.; She zooms in on notable psychologist fraudster Dr Phil McGraw’s book Self Matters – tagline “Creating your life from the inside out” – perhaps COVID-19 presenting the only time when words of his will be useful or applicable.
It’s the B-side ‘CRY’ that’s perhaps the more interesting track. It starts with sublime swaying harmonies that sound as if they fluttered here from the 1950’s. This time Jacklin feels trapped not by the universal but the personal. She tells a story of struggling with mental health around new housemates, a relatable narrative to anyone who has ever navigated the – for want of a better word – ‘delicacies’ of an Aussie share house. It’s also darkly and wryly funny. “I yell down the hallway / “I’m going to the store” / But instead I walk to the local football field / And I walk around in circles, find a quiet corner and cry,” Jacklin sings. As she returns to the house later, she makes jokes about a bread loaf to alleviate any suspicions. We’ve all been there. A sardonic matter-of-fact spoken word portion appears near the end, Jacklin sounding annoyed with herself for putting on appearances in front of her housemates.
The A and B-side highlight the duality of Jacklin as a songwriter: she possesses that rare ability to make one both laugh and cry, often within the same track. She has always detailed complex situations – often about love and relationships – with delicate simplicity. On this double release, the complex situation at hand is much larger and global; she decides to double down on the simplicity accordingly, as if struggling for once to find the words to encapsulate it all. “Everything changes / Everything is changing,” is repeated during ‘To Perth’, convincing herself as much as anyone else; the rousing chorus of ‘CRY’ sees her repeatedly shout that word again and again.
These refrains serve a purpose, reminding us that there’s nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed at everything that’s going on right now, and that there’s also nothing wrong with letting out that emotion. The power is in their simplicity, for sometimes the most impactful art for the collective is the simple message. The video for ‘To Perth’ ends with a shot of a building mural of a smiling emoji – smiling through the pain – above the words “We’re all in this together”; this is the essence of Jacklin’s music and never more so than on this release. She’s helped us contend with the utter strangeness of life under lockdown, while also reminding us again why she is one of this country’s finest storytellers. We hope that her next full-length won’t be far off no matter what happens in the world.
Words by Conor Lochrie