JPR Live Session: Julien Baker

Jan 19, 2018

Julien Baker’s solo debut, Sprained Ankle, was one of the most widely acclaimed works of 2015. The album, recorded by an 18-year-old and her friend in only a few days, was a bleak yet hopeful, intimate document of staggering experiences and grace, centered entirely around Baker’s voice, guitar, and unblinking honesty. Sprained Ankle appeared on year-end lists everywhere from NPR Music to The AV Club to New York Magazine’s Vulture.

With Turn Out The Lights, the now 21-year-old Baker returns to a much bigger stage, but with the same core of breathtaking vulnerability and resilience. From its opening moments —when her chiming, evocative melody is accompanied by swells of strings —Turn Out The Lights throws open the doors to the world without sacrificing the intimacy that has become a hallmark of her songs. The album explores how people live and come to terms with their internal conflict, and the alternately shattering and redemptive ways these struggles playout in relationships. Baker casts an unflinching and accepting eye on the duality of –and contradictions in –the human experience, at times evenfinding humor and joy in the midst of suffering. She ultimately calls on herlisteners to move beyond “good” and “bad,” or “happy” and “sad,” to embrace more complex truths.

As always, the real draw is her songwriting and lyricism. Turn Out The Lights is more expansive in sound and vision than Sprained Ankle and illustrates significant growth, yet the album retains the haunting delicacy of her heartbreakingly confessional style. Where her debut focused inward on Baker’s life and aspects of her identity (female, queer, Christian),Turn Out The Lights reflects on not only her own experiences, but also the experiences of those closest to her.The result finds Baker narrating a deliberate meditation on how we each try to deal with our ever-shifting mental health, and the impact this can have on both ourselves and others. The album sets out to address how the process of coping with internal conflicts affects different relationships –romantic, familial, and friendly. Baker turns outward to embrace the challenges of the human experience, weaving personal struggles together into one surprisingly hopeful chorus.