Julia Jacklin’s PRE PLEASURE Dances Through a Millennial Anxiety Dream

Julia Jacklin’s new album draws to a close with a plea: “Be careful with yourself,” she sings in the song of the same name. She begs someone to “please stop smoking” because she “want[s] your life to last a long time,” and later advises them to “make sure you have got a little savings” and “keep all our doctors appointments, give voice to our doubts.”

As an early 30-something, the Australian singer is now, like so many millennials, faced with the realities of adulthood. “There’s nobody coming to save us,” she eventually sighs in the penultimate song of her third LP, PRE PLEASURE. While Jacklin is probably singing from the perspective of a worried friend or partner, “Be Careful With Yourself” is one of a few songs on the album that contain what sounds like advice from a concerned parent. And when her lyrics don’t lean towards the maternal, Jacklin is a sharp observer of her own internal life, hacking away at the crust of her neuroses and conditions—be they intrusive thoughts or caring too much—until some nugget of meaning is unearthed. For Jacklin, this involves a combination of revisiting childhood and confronting adulthood, a process that results in some of the Australian artist’s sharpest songwriting to date.

If Jacklin’s stellar 2019 sophomore LP Crushing was an album of breakup ballads and single-girl musings, then PRE PLEASURE is about what comes after—what it takes to keep everything together. Jacklin nods at the unraveling detailed on Crushing in the energetic PRE PLEASURE single “I Was Neon,” in which she revels a bit in enjoying the person she’s become in the aftermath, only to anxiously ask, “Am I gonna lose myself again?” The song is a testament to not only Jacklin’s personal growth, but also her evolution as an artist. Full, crunchy guitars, an ace melody, and rich and creamy vocals all contribute to Jacklin’s signature polished indie-rock sound that seemingly gets better with each album. Fellow single and album opener “Lydia Wears a Cross,” too, floats across new sonic ground, melding drum machines with piano while Jacklin successfully tries her hand at unpacking religious disquiet.

While the melodies are delivered with ease, Jacklin is grappling with some serious predicaments throughout PRE PLEASURE, namely her struggle to communicate with loved ones, especially family. In the regretful “Less of a Stranger,” Jacklin charts a mother-daughter relationship that continually falls short. “You’re never gonna see me through the same eyes my friends do,” she sings in a stream-of-consciousness style, adding, “I just wish my own mother was less of a stranger.” And then on “Moviegoer,” which pokes fun at film bros who “[love] to throw their film knowledge around the workplace,” she switches gears to attack the issue of communication again: “If you can say it to a stranger, you can call your sister later,” she reasons.

Jacklin continues to sing from her journal on “Ignore Tenderness,” in which she simultaneously replays past conflict, hints at the demands women feel from an early age to look and act a certain way (“Every since I was 13 I’ve been pulled in every direction”), and cultivates her own sexuality free from scrutiny. She delivers a whole list of cultural expectations that are all too familiar to women: Be “strong but willing to be saved,” “be naughty but don’t misbehave” and “ignore the tenderness you crave.” There’s no way to win.

Jacklin approaches another set of uncomfortable feelings on “Magic”: the urge to always perform (especially in sexual situations) and to always be “on,” perhaps a tendency that developed from past abuses, all while trying to stay present in healthy relationships. “Ready to do magic / Naked beneath the cape / For my final trick / I’ll ask if we could wait / Until I feel safe again,” she sings. The word “confessional” gets thrown around a lot when we talk about indie singer/songwriters, especially women, but it should be saved for songs like this one.

She later sketches out another phenomenon of early adulthood: the friendships that seem to disappear out of thin air. The song in question, fittingly named “End of a Friendship,” grieves a loss while also noting that people change and very often shed relationships that no longer serve them. But there’s still the question of what to do with all the affection that was shared between two buds: “All my love is spinning round the room,” Jacklin sings. “If only it would land, plant and bloom.”

Jacklin displays a newly developed maturity in PRE PLEASURE’s 10 near-perfect songs, while maintaining her talent for crafting hooky indie rock that often catches you off guard with its emotional weight. Even as she navigates a series of past traumas and changing tides in her songs, Jacklin never holds back—her words are as frank as ever. And even if those words aren’t always as sunny as the accompanying guitar chords, it’s a delight to bear witness to a musician of Jacklin’s caliber in her absolute artistic prime.

Ellen Johnson is a former Paste music editor and forever pop culture enthusiast. Presently, she’s a copy editor, freelance writer and aspiring marathoner. You can find her tweeting about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson and re-watching Little Women on Letterboxd.

Revisit Jacklin’s 2019 Paste Studio session below.