THE JACKLIGHTS – Womanchild / Underachiever

In terms of releasing their debut EP, the timing couldn’t have been any more unfortunate for The Jacklights. The Covid pandemic meant that they couldn’t put in the promotional hard yards in front of a home crowd; instead they were forced to rely on word of mouth and strong online press support to get things rolling. However, those who found the band around that time seemed very supportive, and with good reason. Although a few of the vocals were a little loose, the release showcased a solid band whose stock sounds – falling between classic, US-centric college rock and 90s punk – really delivered in terms of chunky melodies.

A couple of digital singles followed throughout the following year, further marking out some great musical territory, and the ‘Drift’ EP made good on the debut’s promise with ‘Monster Love’ sounding like the greatest Letters To Cleo track that never was. The Jacklights showed that, when it came to whipping up a very nostalgia driven sound, they were already one of the coolest acts on the US underground.

Obviously not a band to rush things, their 2022 release offers just a pair of new songs, but both tracks from this digital double whammy are a sharp reminder of why the previous EP was so strong. Tapping into the band’s aggressive side, ‘Womanchild’ is a full throttle punker that takes the guts of the Screeching Weasel sound circa 1993, dirties up the riffs a little, and applies a brilliantly snotty vocal calling back to old Cub records. On top of the great guitar riff – augmented by a few cool stops where a great bass sound and a couple of drum fills cut through – singer Nilagia revisits her inner Kay Hanley, spitting lyrics concerned with fucking up even though you think you’ve got everything set, and the boundaries of friendship. In terms of originality, it doesn’t add much to The Jacklights’ catalogue, but it doesn’t need to; it comes loaded with a superb energy, and if the lyrics don’t catch you at first, the arrival of a few huge whoahs soon will. Overall, it’s a great punker that reminds the listener that the best Lookout Records inspired sounds remain almost timeless.

On the flip, ‘Underachiever’ aims for a little more melody when delivering a slightly slower, slightly fatter set of chords that mix 90s punk with some hard edged power pop. “I don’t know who I’m supposed to be”, cries the song’s protagonist, implying an unease that’s at odds with the confident music. It takes a moment to tune in, but her slightly questioning delivery really works, adding a real heart to an otherwise predictable melodic punk approach. Repeating the main melody a couple of times really helps to make it stick before, eventually, everyone reaches for a brighter tone to fill an uplifting climax where the best pop punk cuts through to end this slightly more thoughtful number in a more positive place. Thematically, it’s a good fit with ‘Womanchild’, cementing The Jacklights’ punky sound with an accessible edge, and although it leaves the listener wanting more, repeated listens don’t weaken its impact, which is a very good sign for things to come.

It would’ve been nice to have been treated to a full Jacklights album after so many bits and pieces over the previous two or three years, but the band are very much working to a “keep it lean and keep ’em keen” formula with their fans here. Looking at this release objectively, they’re probably right to choose that method, too; it leaves no room for filler, and no time for boredom. A recommended listen for fans of melodic punk everywhere.

October 2022