Julien Baker

Turn Out The Lights

Written by: LL on 06/01/2018 16:24:49

At just 22, the indie 'slowcore' singer-songwriter Julien Baker is now two excellent albums into her career as a full-time musician. Her songs deal with depression and substance abuse along with elements from her Christian upbringing. It's emotional and cathartic to listen to and on this sophomore effort, "Turn Out The Lights", she ups her game from her debut "Sprained Ankle", complementing her striking lyricism with a more dramatic vocal approach and a more layered musical background.

Diving head-on and unprepared into this album is one of the more unexpectedly emotional experiences I had in 2017, as I quickly found myself incapable of doing anything else than just sitting and taking in Baker's depiction of hopelessness. It's not the easiest album to review as the sheer heaviness of it makes it a thing I revere but also don't actually want to listen to too often, paradoxically.

After a short instrumental track, the first two songs make up some of the very best moments on the album. The tempo, in general, is slow all over with the songs being carried by Baker's clearly sung words and somewhat apathetic melodies. "Appointments" opens up the album with relatively sparse instrumentation and introduces us to Baker's painful conflict with the striking lyrics of "Maybe it's all gonna turn out all right / And I know that it's not, but I have to believe that it is". These words kick off a notable layered section where she sings harmonies with herself before belting out the last part of the song in a maneuver that plays a part in almost every song here. Next song is the title track "Turn Out The Lights" that further delves into the issue with the metaphorical opening of "There's a hole in the drywall still not fixed / I just haven't gotten around to it / And besides I'm starting to get used to the gaps". It utilizes a more dramatic change in instrumentation than the album's opener, with strings, piano, and guitars all building up behind Baker's frail but still unwavering voice.

Further into the album, three other songs are especially worth mentioning. "Sour Breath" builds a climactic ending differently than the other tracks here, by letting Baker's belting stay far in the background for the repeated section of "The harder I swim, the faster I sink", making for an excellent depiction of feeling trapped behind apathy like it was a body of water dragging you down. "Happy To Be Here" that deals explicitly with the struggle of belief and the thought of having faulty wiring is a personal favorite in the way it carries out its conceptual metaphor and the way Baker sings out her despair to the heavens in the sections of "I've heard there's a fix for everything / Then why, then why, then why not me?".

Finally, the piano-based "Hurt Less" stands out in the precise orchestration of the album with a simpler and more piano-based soundscape. What makes "Hurt Less" special is also its slight shimmer of progress as Baker describes not caring about wearing safety belts when driving before resolutely stating phrases like "And damn it, we are gonna figure something out / If it takes me all night to make it hurt less" and eventually "This year I've started wearing safety belts / When I'm driving". Despite her dive into these defeatist feelings, then, "I'm not always like this / There's always tomorrow, I guess", as she also states on the album's title track.

Every single other song is something to treasure as well and each one has its own great moments to contribute to the totality of the album. Despite my admiration for all of this, I can understand why someone might consider Baker's way of structuring songs and belting out the endings to be just a little much or drenched in too much pathos. This pathos, however, is also what makes Baker's songs feel more cathartic than some of her contemporaries dealing in the same style of songwriting and similar themes.


Download: Happy To Be Here, Appointments, Hurt Less, Sour Breath, Turn Out The Lights
For The Fans Of: Phoebe Bridgers, Julie Byrne, Julia Jacklin, Mount Eerie
Listen: facebook.com/julienrbaker

Release date 27.10.2017
Matador Records

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