Words by Joe Booley.
In 2015, the world was introduced to Tennessee solo artist, Julien Baker. Bringing out her debut album ‘Sprained Ankle’ to critical acclaim with her looped electric guitar layers and beautifully honest lyrics, Baker now returns with her sophomore LP ‘Turn Out the Lights’.
To kick off the record we are greeted with a gorgeous instrumental prelude called ‘Over’. A short piece resembling works by the likes of Olafur Arnold’s and Keaton Henson (Romanctic Works). This flows seamlessly into the lead single ‘Appointments’, a haunting track about the struggles of mental health and all the appointments, and medication that might come along with it. While we hear similarities to her previous album ‘Sprained Ankle’, Julien also comes out with bigger sounds than ever before, and this continues in the title track ‘Turn Out The Lights’. Singing ‘when I turn out the lights’ over pounding floor toms, her soaring vocals hit the very core of your being.
In ‘Shadowboxing’ we hear Julien at her most gentle so far, as her vocals are only accompanied by her guitar to start with and then later by tinkles of piano and some beautiful orchestration. I’d previously seen Julien perform this at Bush Hall in June and her words still hit me just as hard as she sings: ‘tell me you love, tell me you loved me / I wanted so bad to believe you’. At the start of ‘Sour Breath’ we are met with the familiar sound of looped guitar, which continues throughout the remainder of the track. As the track is finally brought to a crescendo with the words ‘the harder I swim the faster I sink’.
‘Televangelist’ and ‘Everything That Helps You Sleep’ are two piano-driven ballads with poignant lyrics and in the latter gorgeously crafted string accompaniment. In ‘Happy to Be Here’, Baker revisits the subject of having to go to appointments and clinics, all with the hope of fixing herself. ‘Hurt Less’ is another piano driven track, but this time with a much more upbeat, and happy, feel to the performance. And once again, the swell of strings started to fade in while Julien is accompanied by flawless vocal harmonies as the words ‘as long as you’re not tired of talking, it makes it hurt less’ are sung.
‘Even’ brings out the acoustic guitar for an appearance which is pleasant to hear as it has previously been a staple in her tracks. But to round off the album we have the track ‘Claws in Your Back’, a finale reminiscent of ‘Go Home’ from her previous record. She sings some of the heaviest words sung on the entire record ‘living with demons I’ve mistaken for saints’ and later her powerful vocals soar over everything to sing about how she ‘wanted to stay’.