By: Ed Dyer
15 October, 2017, 14:00
Even at the tender age of 21, Memphis based musician Julien Baker already has an acclaimed album under her belt – 2015 solo debut Sprained Ankle, self-recorded when she was just 18. It was a beautiful record built round the simplicity of Bakers voice and guitar – bleak yet hopeful, intimate and honest. This follow-up record, Turn Out the Lights, therefore, has something to live up to, and because of the success of its predecessor, it must do so on a bigger stage and under the glare of brighter lights.
It is a good thing then that it does meet the hype, exhibiting the same fundamental resilience and vulnerability that made Sprained Ankle such an affecting listen, but with production that is much fuller. The sparse music is now given shading with strings and woodwind, and piano leads several tracks. This evolution in sound allows greater scope and texture to the songs and give them added intensity. There is a road movie cinematic grace to the album, a haunting and breathless feeling of wide open expanses, vulnerability and movement.
The world we are welcomed into is one of internal struggle, redemption and relationships, subjects treated with unwavering honesty, acceptance and a desire to understand complex truths and elevate things beyond simple black and white answers. To see the grey in between. Unlike her debut, which focused on her own life and identity as a gay Christian woman, Turn Out The Lights is more expansive, pulling inspiration from other people and events around her. The outcome of this approach is an articulate narrative that observes the diverse ways people deal with issues and experiences and how resulting actions can impact upon both ourselves and others. It attempts to answer how coping with myriad internal conflicts can affect relationships, whether they are romantic, familial, or more platonic.
This beautiful, balanced and haunting record embraces the challenges of real life, weaving personal struggles together into an unexpectedly optimistic and healing refrain. Baker has an obvious compassion for the whole human experience, even the darker aspects, finding liberation in broadcasting the things she finds ugly and unlovable, especially in herself, self-healing by helping others to heal.
Turn Out The Lights is out on 27th October via Matador Records.