This Julien Baker article was written by Marc Simonsson, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson
One can only ponder how such a young artist can express so much melancholy within a debut LP; ‘Sprained Ankle’, is a record that lays her emotions, thoughts and soul bare for everyone to see. It reflects a maturity beyond her nineteen years and it is certainly not an album for the faint-hearted. We definitely need to talk about Julien Baker!
Combining beautiful and gentle acoustic guitar riffs with Baker‘s gritty and honest voice, the opening track ‘Blacktop’ sets the tone for the rest of the album. And if, by the end of this song, the listener does not fully understand the full emotional force which they are about to be hit with, they only need to skip to the first line of the second track, “I wish I could write songs about anything other than death”. Baker has no intention of being gentle with the listener – this is an album for a soul that feels pain, an album which expresses the soul’s pain. Baker then continues to delicately pluck with her guitar, later switching to a more electronic sound to further develop the emotional impact of her work.
Baker purposefully keeps the first couple songs extremely simple, with just her raw voice and guitar. In fact, it is not until the third track that there is any percussion; which is a stroke of genius. Baker is a storyteller and she is taking the listener on a journey with her LP. The gradual addition of layers and increased complexity as we travel through the album helps evoke different emotions. As a result, even if the listener is not an expert in deciphering the meaning behind lyrics, Baker is still able to use her musicianship to bring an emotional punch to the listener’s proverbial gut.
One of the key elements to this album is Baker‘s use of her vocals. By nature her voice is extremely soft and delicate and it instantly creates a calming atmosphere. But with expert timing and the flick of a chord, she displays the full power and ferocity of her vocals, particularly in songs such as ‘Something’.
‘Sprained Ankle’ is neatly wrapped up by another example of Baker’s fine musicianship. ‘Go Home’ takes the separate strengths from each song and combines them to create a perfect sign off. When it has finished and the listener is left with just silence; the only cure for such intensity is to quickly splash one’s face with cold water. And despite its depth, one can only feel that this album is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Baker‘s musical ability.