Julia Jacklin, “Don’t Let The Kids Win” (Polyvinyl)
“Don’t Let The Kids Win,” Australian Julia Jacklin’s captivating debut, is a folk-rock album elevated by her empathetic lyrics and delicate but expressive voice.
As a child, Jacklin wanted to be a social worker and, whether accompanied by her guitar or a small band, her songs exhibit that kind of no-nonsense awareness.
The opening threesome — “Pool Party,” ”Leadlight” and “Coming of Age” — is as spirited as the album gets, sonic peaks from where Jacklin descends into songs that match the disquieting intimacy of their themes with the magnetic subtlety of her performances. Her romantic ventures often lead into a tunnel of heartbreak but there’s some light at the other end.
The title track is a perfect closer, summing up the album while providing the cliff notes to what came before. Its refrain — “We’re gonna keep on getting older/ It’s gonna keep on feeling strange” — is like Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” in reverse, sung by someone who’s already realized that strange is the new normal.
Sometimes tagged as “nouveau emo,” Jacklin thankfully bears no resemblance to the insufferable whining of the genre’s late 1990s mainstream version. Where there’s confusion or angst in her songs, there’s also usually a way forward, and broken illusions also carry life lessons.
Jacklin, 25, quit her day job at an essential oil factory to dedicate herself fully to music. Judging by “Don’t Let The Kids Win,” that sort of production line will stay safely in her past.