Album Of The Week: Julia Jacklin – Pre Pleasure

The Australian singer-songwriter explores the art of release in her masterful third album

When we think of reclaimed female sexuality, we usually think mainstream pop or hip-hop, stars who deal in cheeky provocations and an aspirational, almost farcical kind of confidence. Julia Jacklin’s folk-rock, art-pop musings are a world away.

Ignore the tenderness you crave/Be naughty but don’t misbehave,” she sings in ‘Ignore Tenderness’. This is a record for those of us who grew up singing in church choirs and hanging Bible verses on our bedroom walls. Pre Pleasure is not a total shedding of inhibition, but a marriage of two truths – your upbringing is a hard thing to outrun, but pleasure always finds a way.

Julia Jacklin - Lydia Wears A Cross (Official Video)

Jacklin navigates this mission masterfully. Opening the album with lead single ‘Lydia Wears A Cross’, she describes a childhood spent in a Catholic primary school, where she gets her first taste for performance and learns a confusing love for religion. She and crucifix-wearing friends sing songs from Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph And The Technicolour Dream Coat along with their hymns – “I’d be a believer/If it was all just song and dance,” sings Jacklin – and learn to confess their sins before God.

It’s an opening track that acts almost as a prologue, providing context for the rest of the album as Jacklin navigates adult life. In ‘Ignore Tenderness’, Jacklin watches porn in an attempt to turn herself on, but – “Right when pleasure begins/My education creeps in”. In ‘Magic’, she is “naked beneath the cape” and ready to be intimate with her partner. She attempts to find the same pleasure in sex as she does in performance. “I won’t be ashamed tonight/Treat it like a stage tonight,” she sings. Inevitably, the end of the song sees her faltering: “I’ll ask if we could wait/Until I feel safe again.”

Julia Jacklin - Love, Try Not To Let Go (Official Video)

Much of the record betrays a pervasive anxiety. Jacklin is reluctant to let go and not only in a sexual sense. There is stress in emotional intimacy, a distrust of the uncertainty that comes with building your future around another person. The pretty tripping piano of ‘Love, Try Not To Let Go’ is obscured by a stressful buzz in the choruses, as Jacklin repeats that her love should “try not to let go” over and over. In ‘Be Careful With Yourself’, which sees Jacklin at her most indie-rock, she begs her partner not to smoke, drive too fast or skip medical appointments. Chugging guitars let out the occasional wail.

‘Too In Love To Die’, a standout, forgoes the noise in favour of a quiet, meditative track which reads like a poem and sounds like a prayer. Surely this love and their youth make them immortal, she muses. Surely the God she was taught to love wouldn’t disrupt both. “Surely it’s love like this that keeps us alive.”

Julia Jacklin - I Was Neon (Official Video)

The record is at its most heartbreaking in ‘Less Of A Stranger’. Exploring a different kind of intimacy, Jacklin longs to know her mother in a capacity outside of being her daughter and mourns the parts of her parents that she will never be shown. In ‘I Was Neon’ she mourns again, this time for a past version of herself. The lack of control over her relationships is disorientating. Disaster images crop up throughout the record – planes going down, ships sinking, lungs giving out.

But the only way to shed the prefix in Pre Pleasure is to allow herself that release. In ‘End Of A Friendship’, the album’s closer, her soft, controlled vocals over gentle guitar give way to something more dramatic and orchestral, which is in turn obscured by a dissonant, restless buzz. It’s in those final seconds that the record is at its most joyfully chaotic.

Pre Pleasure is out now. Get tickets to see Julia Jacklin live here.