Turn Out The Lights, the Nashville singer-songwriter’s sophomore album, and Matador Records debut, dropped just over a week ago now – and I decided to sit with the record for a while before delving into a review due to having outrageously high expectations off the back of Baker’s stellar 2015 debut, Sprained Ankle. Sprained Ankle is a record I will always hold very dearly to my heart, thus making me somewhat hesitant at first to listen to Turn Out The Lights (hence the late review). What a mistake that was. Turn Out The Lights is equally as authentic and heart wrenching as Sprained Ankle, if not more so and sees Julien examining her personal faults and insecurities with next to no restrictions. The record takes an unforgettably blistering dive into self doubt, depression and troubled relationships.
While Turn Out The Lights walks a similar path to Sprained Ankle, there’s immediately something about it that’s much more cold and haunting as we’re taken on a rollercoaster ride of catharsis and self-torment.
(image courtesy of DIY Magazine)
When Baker came out to her family at the age of 17, her dad furiously scanned the Bible for words of approval. Her battles with Christianity and sexuality are at the forefront of the record, as the young singer-songwriter gives a piece of herself to her listeners with each and every song telling another tale. Her elegant guitar and piano works are now accompanied by string arrangements and silky smooth production, catapulting Baker that bit closer to the mainstream, whilst still retaining that oh-so exquisite frailty that we all know and love her for.
The record opens with the sounds of Julien coming through a door with a subtle jingling of keys in her hand as she sits down at her piano and breaks into “Over“, a sombre instrumental that lays the foundations for what is to come beautifully; establishing one hell of an atmosphere. The opening track then flows seamlessly into “Appointments“, our first slice of the record that was released a few months back. The track sees Baker deploring how her self-destructive tendencies take a toll on those who mean the most to her: “I know that I’m not what you wanted” she conclusively sighs. The track hits its peak with the Nashville singer chanting “I have to believe that it is” over and over – attempting to convince herself something she believes to be false – a theme that runs thick throughout the entirety of the record.
The titular, and conjunctively stand out track, showcases Julien roaring into an explosive, almost shoegaze-esque guitar pattern with the yelling of “When I turn out the lights” at her most confident to date. This one takes a stab at the same subject matter as its predecessor as Baker fights to accept the hands reaching out for her that she pleaded for so desperately.
Addiction, suicide, alienation and all that lovely stuff attached to emo are brought to the table with devilish imagery, on “Sour Breath“, as the track’s narrator likens self-repulsion to deformed body parts. Mary Shelly, is that you? “Plywood boards joined at your breast, splinter in my arm where you rest your head” sings Baker. Is your heart wrenching yet? It’s at no difficulty to spot that Julien majored in English Literature, is it? It’s Baker’s lyricism that’s always been the stand-out point for me, there’s very few artists out there that can paint a picture in the way that Julien can. With every utter of a word, the urge to give her a big ol squeeze grows stronger.
The following effort, “Televangelist” takes the listener on a bittersweet journey of the desire to be perfect over a rising choir and organ arrangement, inciting goosebumps at every turn. “Hurt Less” comes as a somewhat sequel to Sprained Ankle’s “Blacktop“, in which she described the crashing of her car into a streetlight. “Hurt Less” sees Baker state that she used to care so little for her own wellbeing that she didn’t even wear a seatbelt.
On Turn Out The Lights, Julien persistently stares life’s most ghastly displeasures in the face and doesn’t wince away in fear. She talks of suicide without the bat of an eyelid (“the easy way out and the hardest part”) on album closer “Claws In Your Back“. The battling of your demons plays the main role here, with the juxtaposition of getting to grips with them and accepting them as your own. The record plays the part of a comforting, warm blanket on a winter’s night and is a gruelling listen from start to finish, as Baker leaves the door wide open. It’s a record that requires it’s listener to give it it’s full attention to really be appreciated. It’s gripping, it’s emotional, it’s elegant, it’s everything you’d expect from Julien and more. Baker’s exposition of her deepest and darkest insecurities allows for a meaningful and emotional connection with her audience. Achingly powerful, Baker’s sophomore record sits comfortably at the very top of an incredible mound of releases that the musical godsend that is 2017 has churned out.
(featured image taken from Youtube.com)
Words by Ben Davies