Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights

Julien Baker, <i>Turn Out the Lights</i>

While I’ve only heard Memphis-dwelling folksinger Julien Baker relatively recently, it hasn’t taken long for her to leave me stunned and amazed with my mouth wide open. I’m reluctant to use the “folksinger” tag, honestly, because it doesn’t really do Baker’s music justice, but it’s the essential underpinning to it all, so I’m going with it.

Music-wise, the songs on new album Turn Out the Lights make me think — surprisingly — of Explosions in the Sky, with those gently echoing, repeating riffs and hazy bursts of gorgeous, just-dirty-enough distorted guitar. The music swoops and glides, floating serenely over the horizon like a soul ejected from its body and looking down at its own history. It’s elegaic for a lot of the album, just sincere, minimal piano or softly-strummed acoustic guitars, and it’s quietly beautiful.

Baker’s voice is fragile and ethereal, folky but not country, despite hailing from Tennessee. Although, with that said, there’s a definite bit of Brandi Carlile in there, both in the phrasing and in the power Baker can wield…when she wants to, that is. See the intense, soul-shaking crescendo of “Appointments,” where, holy shit, that seemingly fragile voice explodes into a roar as powerful and impassioned and full of fury and pain and sorrow as the best things Carlile’s ever done.

I’ll admit it; up to that point, Turn Out the Lights was decent but not great, to me, another good-yet-kinda-forgettable indie-folk album, of which I’ve heard plenty. That song, and that voice, though, they turned me around, and the album continues on from there. There’s quiet, sure, but it’s like the calm before the storm, and when it hits… Whoa. Don’t stop before you reach the harrowing end of closer “Claws in Your Back,” by the by, because it’s worth the wait.

When you listen past that astoundingly, unassumingly dynamic voice and focus on the lyrics, there’s a world of pain in there, a bitter, melancholy, self-hating deep of confusion and self-doubt. In a lot of ways, Lights is like a cry for help from a drowning person, that friend who’s lost and hurt and looking for some kind of lifeline to cling to.

She makes it even clearer on tracks like “Sour Breath,” which ends with Baker howling, “The harder I swim / the faster I sink,” or “Happy to Be Here” she wishes she could just rewire her own brain to make things “work” so she can be happy like everybody else. “I heard there’s a fix,” she sings, “for everything / Then why / then why / then why / not me?”

The sad truth is that not everything’s fixable, at least not like that. Sometimes things are just painful, or bad, or crushingly depressing, and that’s just the way it is. Everybody’s got to find their own way of coping with it, as much as it sucks; for Baker, it feels like I’m listening to her own personal therapy, a thought she seems to confirm on “Hurt Less,” when she offers, “As long as you’re not tired of talking / it helps to make it hurt less”.

Sometimes just the act of talking, or singing, can make that pain back away, at least for a little while. And sometimes, the act of listening? Well, it might help, too.

[Julien Baker is playing 12/19/17 at The Heights Theater, along with Half Waif & Adam Torres.]
(Matador Records -- http://www.matadorrecords.com/; Julien Baker -- http://julienbaker.com/; Julien Baker (Facebook) -- https://www.facebook.com/julienrbaker/; Julien Baker (Twitter) -- https://twitter.com/julienrbaker; Julien Baker (Instagram) -- https://www.instagram.com/julienrbaker/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, December 19th, 2017. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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