Julien Baker and the question of the self
Carlos De Loera | Wednesday, November 8, 2017
In 2015, at only the age of 20, Julien Baker released her debut album, “Sprained Ankle,” to much critical acclaim. It was mostly praised for its simplicity and for Baker’s ability to sing about personal struggles so openly and unabashedly. Now, at the very mature age of 22, Baker released “Turn Out the Lights” on Oct. 27.
The album is very much written and performed in the same vein as “Sprained Ankle.” Baker continues her self-musings with her signature vulnerability that helps listeners to feel for, or even relate to, her experiences. Baker appears to be particularly interested in her own seemingly paradoxical existence as both a person who identifies as gay and as a Christian. This confused sense of being can be seen in the track “Sour Breath,” in which she sings, “You’re everything I want and I’m all you dread” and “The harder I swim, the faster I sink.” She is caught in between having to be one thing over the other, while desiring to be both, something she believes can happen.
In “Televangelist,” Baker most clearly addresses her difficulties with the discrepancy between her own relationship with God and her relationships with her fellow Christians. “Hold the chorus in between my ears until I go deaf / That remind me exactly what I am every chance they get” sings Baker, which highlights how constantly she must be reminded by other Christians that her way of life leads her, in their minds, to a life of damnation. She then expresses her conflicted mind as she sings, “Am I a masochist / Screaming televangelist.” Why would she continue to give the televangelist influence on her by listening to him if he is just going to tell her that she is wrong? It surely must be, then, that despite her annoyance with people’s constant judgement, she does in fact have a genuine interest and appreciation for the message of the Bible and a penchant for the attainment of the love of God. This particularly hit home for me because it often feels that in spite of having conflicting views with the Church, I also still find myself attracted to the overall loving and accepting message of the Church.
The biggest complaint I have with the album is that it all sounds like the same two or three songs played 11 times, with the only thing that changes being the lyrics. While listening to the album, I would often find myself struggling to notice when one song ended and the other began. In spite of this, the album remains enjoyable because she executes these seemingly repeated songs pretty well. Another complaint with the album is that it felt as if it progressed too slowly, which partially had to do with Baker’s style of music and also with the fact that every song is a sad one. Maybe this was done intentionally so that the listener could feel Baker’s own slow burning pain, but personally, this hindered the album.
Outside of its messages and repetitiveness, “Turn Out the Lights” immediately stands out because of the sweeping orchestration, which manages to not overpower the intimacy of the singularity of Baker’s own voice and instrumentation. At only 22, Baker has proven to be both more successful than I could ever hope to be when I turn 22 next year and, more importantly, a major player in the indie-folk movement. It truly is exciting to think this is just the beginning of what we can only hope is a long career.
Artist: Julien Baker
Album: “Turn Out the Lights”
Favorite Track: “Televangelist”
If you like: Margaret Glaspy, Big Thief, Soccer Mommy
Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5