On Sugar Mountain, Jack River is dizzying, vivid and saccharine-drenched. Lurching to re-write the tales of teen-dom, and dive into a world of sticky love-sick afternoons and endless starlit nights, it’s a starkly relatable narrative.
Named after Neil Young’s seminal 1964 track of the same name, nostalgia, loss and hope blanket each fuzzy guitar line and bubbly synth hook. Much like the original track, Sugar Mountain is an ode to the bittersweetness of youth.
However, it never basks in melancholy – amongst the sombre lyrics and introspective musings, Sugar Mountain culminates in bright, psychedelic pop instrumentals. Paralleled by a vivid, all-encompassing aesthetic, it’s a shimmering dreamlike experience.
“I wrote the songs so naturally. They were all about things that never actually happened to me or I never got to grasp the subject that I’m talking about in so many of the songs, so I started to see a pattern that they were potentially reachings from the youth I didn’t have.” said Holly Rankin, who began releasing music under the name Jack River in 2016.
Releasing a slew of desert-pop singles, she caught the ear of music lovers across the country. Sugar Mountain is her debut album, solidifying her voice as one of Australian music’s most unique, visionary identities.
“I started to realise my attraction to the sounds of my early youth – stuff like No Doubt and the Pixies and even songs like ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ and ‘Stacy’s Mom’. The tones of music that I thought were kind of a bit silly in the beginning I realised had nostalgic power – a beautiful, teenage, free feeling.”
“They were all about things that never actually happened to me or I never got to grasp the subject that I’m talking about in so many of the songs, so I started to see a pattern that they were potentially reachings from the youth I didn’t have.”
Under its glittering veneer, Sugar Mountain comes from a place of deep pain.
“When I was 14, I lost my sister in a freak accident. She was my best friend and the closest kind of spiritual bestie, and that cracked apart mine and my family’s world for many years and still does.”
“It happened across my teenage years, where everyone else was kind of stepping into this time of having fun and drinking and festivals and gap years and stuff, and I didn’t experience a lot of that. It all was quite dark for me.”
“I was actually writing music and threw myself into music and figured that was a way to heal myself because I could write another reality. So, once I realised what was happening – that I could write myself out of situations – that’s what I started doing. And now that has very much accumulated into what has become Jack River and this album.”
Each tale shared on Sugar Mountain is a masterclass in vulnerability – especially on the track ‘In Infinity’, which Rankin describes as being the deepest song on the album, a song inspired by the need to find beauty in the darkest of times.
“Everyone else was kind of stepping into this time of having fun and drinking and festivals and gap years and stuff, and I didn’t experience a lot of that. It all was quite dark for me.”
“That was probably the deepest song on the record to me. It’s one of the oldest songs and I did write it in a place where I felt so depressed and so detached from everything. I realised how free it felt to be not attached to anything.
In a very dark way, just feel it gave me the sense – a pure sense when you’ve lost everything. There are actually so many places to go and so much opportunity when you groove attachment to everything.”
Portrayals of American teen-dom have constantly plagued the Australian psyche. From attempting to emulate the stories of cafeteria romances and drunken Halloween parties, Australian coming of age is deeply ingrained in American ideals – an idea that Rankin sought to express on Sugar Mountains visuals, helping to encompass the overarching theme of a carefree youth.
“Any kids from the 90s or early 2000s, have this American youth in the background of our heads, as Australians I think, from movies and stuff.”
“Any kids from the 90s or early 2000s, have this American youth in the background of our heads, as Australians, I think, from movies and stuff. I put all these things together and luckily found Matt Sav from Perth who had already made some very sparkly, bright, colourful video clips. I could tell he had an amazing imagination for that.”
“We tried to bring out like teen dreams of mine – so things like a racing car driver, an American diner girl and discos popped up”
“But with ‘Limo’, I always had a scene in my head of a couple in a diner and they’re kind of torn between everything that could happen in the future, everything you want to do and everything that’s happened in the past. It’s a nostalgic, weird universe. And Matt took that and turned it into an even weirder place.”
To celebrate the release of Sugar Mountain, Jack River will be taking to the stage of Splendour In The Grass, which she described as the moment where she “actually took my music career seriously”.
“Weirdly it was a moment where I actually took my music career seriously. Its like, “Oh? I get to play Splendour?” Until then, I was like, “Oh, is this working? What do people – where is it going?” I guess to achieve that dream – that childhood teenage dream of playing Splendour – is a real achievement award.”
Sugar Mountain is out today through I OH YOU.