For Fans Of
Within the first few seconds of ‘Over‘, the opening song of Julien Baker’s incredible new work, ‘Turn Out The Lights‘, a door opens to your left. Footsteps fall closer as they soon stop and quickly pull a stool out before sitting down at a piano. Then, suddenly, the dire opening piano chords of the record’s introductory piece begins; a chilling instrumental coupled with mournful strings (courtesy of Camille Faulkner) that preface the soon-to-be-open floodgates of Baker’s innermost being.
In fact, 40 minutes later at the end of the shimmering album climax ‘Claws In Your Back‘, her final heart-wrenching vocal cry of “I think I can love the sickness you made/cause I’d take it all back/I’d change my mind/I want it to stay” resonates through you. And as the last notes of her trusty piano ring out, the lid is physically and metaphorically shut on the Tennessee singer-songwriter’s most personal, most extreme skin-shedding telling to date.
Produced and recorded at Tennessee’s Ardent Studios with help from Sorority Noise’s Cam Boucher (who also performs clarinet and saxophone on certain songs here), ‘Turn Out The Lights’ is a musically minimal yet incredibly deep, vastly emotive record. It’s a record about the complex grey areas of loneliness and loss, of sexuality and love, of past addictions and future self-destruction, of grief and hope, of faith and depression and the general positives and negatives in Baker’s life outside of her fastly growing musical career.
There’s something just so goddamn sad yet so universally touching about Baker’s lyricism and her wondrous, haunting songwriting that it’s hard to put down into words. And something tells me that the very lyrics that come from Baker on this pretty and serene sounding yet rather bleak and engrossing 11-track offering where very difficult for her to pen in the first place. Yet it’s this near-indescribable tone of sadness and her strong musical ability that’s gained the 22-year-old Memphis musician mass attention since 2015’s ‘Sprained Ankle‘ LP. For what started with that solid, well-received debut record two years ago, and for what was also re-captured on this year’s 7″ ‘Funeral Pyre‘, is now brought further out into the stunning, cloud-breaking light.
While ‘Turn Out The Lights‘ is by and large a more lyrically nuanced release than that of ‘Sprained Ankle‘ – which was my own introduction into the mind and music of Julien Baker – this new record exists on a level of melancholia, honesty, vulnerability, and emotional intimacy that very few other artists, heavy or otherwise, have been able to summon this year. Of course, this is all simply a stellar confluence of great lyricism and great songwriting; two areas that Baker seems to be highly skilled in well beyond her years, all of which results in a seldom musical purity with her second LP. If her debut was just a hint, then this is the full scoop: for truly, Baker’s life is her canvas and the music she’s created here is the brush she tries to paint over it with.
The instrumentation of ‘Turn Out The Lights‘ is only ever comprised of simple but affecting combinations of piano, strings, electric guitar, bass, and the singer’s sombre vocals with some occasional other elements present in the oddly comforting backgrounds of her songs. And for a record with zero percussion, there is real impact here and then some. It’s all very dynamic, of course, but her music is mostly that of a very low-key nature. However, anything more/higher/denser would perhaps ruin the heart-rendering sound that she’s found for herself. Not only that, but less really is more as Baker does so much with often so little; a perfect musical crux for her poetic, open-diary lyrics to stand upon, which are anything but ‘small’ or ‘little’.
Soft, gloomy guitar chords underpin Baker’s angelic vocals on ‘Happy To Be Here‘, vocals that are equally soothing yet pained. Baker’s powerfully stripped-back and desperate cries of “the harder I swim, the faster I sink” on the life-affirming standout ‘Sour Breath‘, might just be one of her strongest musical moments to date. The eerie car-crash lyrical metaphors on love and living life (“I used to never wear a seatbelt/I said I didn’t care/What happened/I didn’t see the point/Trying to save myself/From an accident“), over the gut-punching string-laden piano ballad of ‘Hurt Less‘, which also features guest vocal harmonies from Matthew Gilliam of Baker’s old high-school emo band Forrister, is surreal. The confessional inner turmoil found within ‘Shadowboxing‘ of “…and you watched me throwing punches at the devil/It just looks like I’m fighting me” are the tangible signs of an artist refusing to hold back. The title track’s superb ambience and dreamy instrumentals that weave under lyrical throes of isolation (“But when I turn out the lights/there’s no one there between myself and me“) will sadly be all too familiar to many of us. And the bone-chilling coda and inspiring, hopeful tones of ‘Appointments‘ (“Maybe it’s all gonna turn out alright and I know that it’s not/but I have to believe that it is“) indicates that amongst all of our grey matter and underneath all of our sadness, we must look for that bright light buried within all of us. No matter how deep that optimism may be.
These 11 songs – the very chemical makeup of ‘Turn Out The Lights‘ and Baker’s current life – are something else entirely. So beautiful, so gloomy, so darn simple and yet so fucking meaningful at the same time. This flawless album is a collection of painfully personal hymns, making up what I can only somewhat pretentiously describe as pure, unfiltered realness. But it was made not just for you, not just for me, nor just for the artist’s ever-growing devout fanbase; it was necessarily made for Baker’s own healing, her own health, and it’s also been made for the open catharsis of the many souls out there who aren’t listening to her gospels just yet.
There are artists, from many different genres and from many differing walks of life, that truly put themselves into their art and music. And then there’s someone beyond that, someone like Julien Baker.
‘Turn Out The Lights’ impacted me on such a level that I simply was not expecting it to when I initially hit play and ‘Over’ began for the first time. And I most definitely got teary, nostalgic, and reminiscent (often at the same time) on a handful of occasions during this amazing record’s runtime. So, if you take my recommendations on just one record this year, then please let it be ‘Turn Out The Lights’. Because Julien Baker’s soulful new LP is the album of the year. You need ‘Turn Out The Lights’ in not only your record collections but also in your life.
Fuck the record’s track listing, please just listen to it: