Release Radar: Julien Baker – Turn Out the Lights

Sorry for that brief hiatus but I should have 3 additional emails before wrapping-up 2017.  Notable new releases this week include another new album from Chris Stapleton “From a Room: Vol. 2”, U2’s “Songs Of Experience”, death metal legends Morbid Angel may be back in form with “Kingdoms Disdained” and after a 15 yr break between records NY progressive hardcore band Glassjaw are unleashing “Material Control”.  Also, Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” is now available for streaming if you’re into her music and don’t want to buy it.
I’ve held off from featuring this artist for a little bit, for reasons I cannot fathom.  But Julien Baker’s sophomore album “Turn Out the Lights” blows me away in places, and you should definitely give her album a listen.  This young singer/songwriter from Memphis is a talent to be reckoned with.  Her music is soulful, stark and cathartic.  I hate to use the tortured artist cliché, but Baker’s struggle with depression definitely adds an impact to her writing and performance that likely couldn’t be duplicated without the influence of her personal demons.  Baker started playing in a band in high school, which she continued to perform in while she was in college (before dropping out).  But then she wrote a batch of songs that didn’t fit the bands rock-oriented vibe.  This spurred her to record her own solo album.  Baker recorded these songs at Richmond’s (VA) Spacebomb Studios and released them in 2015 with her “Sprained Ankle” album.  She had some very positive critical reviews and even charted in the top 25 on Billboard’s Heatseekers album chart.  She caught the interest of Matador Records, who put out her current album.  I think she has taken a big step forward on her new record.  This isn’t surprising since she was only 19 when she wrote her first album and is still just 22 years old.  Baker takes her music very seriously.  She has stated “Music is everything.  Evidence of the divine.  The possibility of man to be good.  The possibility of improving our surroundings and expressing ourselves.  All of these things are collapsed together in my mind.”   This seriousness permeates her songs and music.  Her sparse yet devastating ballads strike you with an impact that few artists are able to match.  Since her music is filled with sadness, doubts, self-destructive urges and frail mental health, it’s understandable that her audience relates to her in a deeply personal way.  Her fans thank her for putting their own traumas into words.  Baker’s song arrangements have grown by leaps and bounds compared to her first album.  I think this helps some of her songs to have an even bigger impact.  Even though Baker sings about really heavy feelings, her music in not too dark because there’s usually a layer of hope lying under the surface.  And Baker uses music as a coping mechanism – it’s her release.  Off stage she is not a brooding artist, and describes herself as silly and kind of a dorky person.  Baker deserves a lot of credit for going out on stage and exposing her vulnerability.  There are too many highlights to list on her album, again you should check it out on your own.  But here a few tracks to start with.
Turn Out the Lights – Just Baker and her guitar and some subtle background strings.  So simple and yet heavy.  When she belts out the chorus in the last minute, it’s such an effective, emotional and jarring moment.
Appointments – This song hits hard with just a hint of instrumentation.     
Sour Breath – I love how she repeats this line before the song wraps up – “The harder I swim the faster I sink” – could only find live version of this song
Happy to Be Here – “I heard there’s a fix for everything, then why then why then why then why not me?” – powerful in her delivery – again, only found live versions of this track

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