Two years after the original release of Julien Baker‘s debut album ‘Sprained Ankle’, a raw nerve is still rattled on each play and replay. First released on Bandcamp, Baker has marked herself as frighteningly honest, unquestionably minimalist, and utterly intimate.
Those observing the rise of Julien Baker‘s presence in the UK will by now be aware of her rerunning tour this autumn, the regularly sold-out London dates. Unassumingly, she continues to gather a dedicated following. Even over at last year’s Primavera Sound, as she played a stripped back set sandwiched into the same timeslot as Bon Iver and Swans, the crowd was impressively expansive for a girl so small yet mighty. So all eyes are turned to Baker‘s second album ‘Turn Out The Lights’, released under prestigious label Matador Records, ready to see if her encore reaches those same dizzying premier heights.
Gone are her Bandcamp days and those familiar and frank guitar lines. ‘Turn Out The Lights’ is a stunningly produced album. Recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis, her sophomore release is mixed by Craig Silvey, also behind such household names as Florence & The Machine and Arcade Fire. Keyboards, string sections, and electric guitars blend, rise and fall, a feat that would have been impossible in her debut release.
Baker’s voice is as entrancing as ever, a turning beacon in the dark that still hints at vulnerability and clambers skywards in songs like ‘Shadowboxing’: “You can’t even imagine how badly it hurts just to think sometimes how I think almost all the time”. The sound in ‘Turn Out The Lights’ is extensive, and so too is her mission. These new songs are not just inward and self-ruminating but now they have a focus that’s more outward facing, examining the experiences of herself and others around her as well as the ever-changing process of mental health and of coping. Musically, her songs are more complex; it’s not just her instrumentation but also her riffs and underlying counter melodies, scrambling together in songs like ‘Sour Breath’. At first they can lose the listener, but a re-listen imparts a different message; no longer is she only bearing witness, but growing and healing.
The intimacy that enchanted us in the first album is partially gone, and with it disappears some of the painfully memorable riffs and ostinatos of ‘Sprained Ankle’. But instead of unapologetically breaking our hearts again and again, ‘Turn Out The Lights’ begins to heal them. If listeners give this new album some time, its beauty will enchant them just as much as her debut.
And for all its differences from the first album, the same aching lyrical intimacy is still there; in fact, this is what comes out stronger than ever. Julien Baker is one of those rare artists who focuses as much on lyrical poetic quality as on her music: “What is it like to be empty – full of only echoes, my body caving in, a cathedral of arching ribs, heaving out their broken hymns”. If there is a moment a listener will truly connect with her music, it’s in paying attention and bringing interpretation to her living poems.
In the stunning finale track ‘Claws in your Back’, one lyric in particular rings out: “I’m better off learning how to be living with demons mistaken for saints – if you keep it between us, I think they’re the same.” And with this comes out all the rawness we know so well from ‘Sprained Ankle’. That’s the beauty of Julien Baker‘s music – she lays out all her demons and saints, beautiful tragedies and harsh confessions alike, and modestly invites us to inspect every one of her introspections, to share in her pain. As she acknowledges: “When I talk about things in myself I find ugly and unlovable, they are the most effective tools for connecting with other people, for helping other people heal. And that helps me heal.”
‘Turn Out The Lights’ is out on the 27th October 2017 via Matador Records.
Turn Out The Lights track listing:
3. Turn Out The Lights
5. Sour Breath
7. Everything That Helps You Sleep
8. Happy To Be Here
9. Hurt Less
11. Claws In Your Back
Remaining tour dates for Julien Baker:
27/10 New York, NY @ Town Hall +
28/10 Somerville, MA @ Somerville Theatre +
29/10 Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer +
03/10 The Hague, NL @ Crossing Border Festival
04/11 Utrecht, NL @ Ekko
06/11 Bristol, UK @ The Lantern
07/11 Leeds, UK @ Brudenell Social Club
08/11 Glasgow, UK @ CCA
09/11 Dublin, IE @ Whelans
10/11 London, UK @ Union Chapel (SOLD OUT)
12/11 Brussels, BE @ Autumn Falls
14/11 Berlin, DE @ Heimathafen Neukolln
15/11 Hamburg, DE @ Uebel & Gefahrlich
16/11 Düsseldorf, DE @ New Fall Festival
17/11 Madrid, ES @ El Sol
18/11 Braga, PT @ Theatro Circo
19/11 Barcelona, ES @ La De Apolo
29/11 Knoxville, TN @ Bijou Theatre
30/11 Nashville, TN @ Marathon Music Works
01/11 Memphis, TN @ 1884 Lounge
02/11 St. Louis, MO @ Delmar Hall +
07/12 Spokane, WA @ The Bartlett +
08/12 Seattle, WA @ Neptune Theatre +
09/12 Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw Theatre +
10/12 Portland, OR @ Aladdin Theater +
12/12 San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore +
14/12 Los Angeles, CA @ Palace Theatre +
15/12 San Diego, CA @ The Irenic +
16/12 Phoenix, AZ @ The Crescent Ballroom +
18/12 Austin, TX @ Emo’s +
19/12 Houston, TX @ The Heights Theater +
20/12 Dallas, TX @ The Kessler Theater +
* supporting Belle & Sebastian
# supporting Ben Folds
+ Half Waif supports