Baker’s star is burning brighter than ever.
Label: Matador Records
Released: 27th October 2017
Julien Baker is at her most effective when occupying the extremes of emotion. Ruminating on broken hearts, tested faith and the strains of mental health, she embraces life’s darker moments knowing that the light will pull her through. The album’s message is perhaps best summed up in ‘Appointments’’ crescendo: “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out alright, and I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is”. Melancholy is the bedrock of these songs, but hope is never far behind.
From the outset Baker’s growth as a composer is apparent, with a sombre cello punctuating intro track ‘Over’ before delicate vocal harmonies drift into lead single ‘Appointments’. In the two years since ‘Sprained Ankle’ was released Baker has toured far and wide and was always bound to expand her canvas. The intricate loops of her trademark Telecaster are still there, but there’s added emphasis on the possibilities afforded by the added time in the studio, with pianos and double-tracked vocals increasingly prominent.
‘Turn Out The Lights’ reaches a crescendo the likes of which Baker hasn’t delivered before. Where on ‘Sprained Ankle’ her heartfelt vocals lifted the songs up, here she brings the backing with her for the song’s finale making for a hair-raising moment.
Some solo artists can fall into the temptation of putting together backing bands when they find success, but Baker resists this, and the musical flourishes that she’s able to add to her songs never risk hijacking or overpowering her. Baker’s voice is still the star attraction here though, capable of cutting through all external noise and wrenching at the heartstrings, and when the instruments drop out as they do at the height of “Sour Breath” the result is truly spine-tingling.
‘Turn Out the Lights’ is above all driven by a sorrowful defiance in the face of life’s hardships, and in Julien Baker’s earnest delivery and parse songwriting these feelings have found a unique vessel. Still only 21 years old, Baker has crafted an album that flickers in the dark, but her own star is burning brighter than ever. Dillon Eastoe