Julien Baker is an unlikely starlet. Her debut album, Sprained Ankle, was never intended to even get a physical release. It ended up propelling her on world tours. Dealing with substance abuse, religion and sexuality, it was a candid and vulnerable effort from a young woman finding her place in the world.
Regarding themes, Turn Out The Lights is much the same, but far more mature in its reflections. Appointments is a heartachingly beautiful account of struggling with mental health and rejection. In Shadowboxing, Baker implores her beloved to “say that you love me, say that you loved me” with desperation that feels all too immediate and faltering. Yet for all the vulnerability, there are moments where Baker shows her immense strength, both of voice and spirit. Televangelist hears her roaring about “clutching my crucifix of white noise and static,” whilst in ‘Happy To Be Here’ she says she’s “not fooled when you tell me you’re glad I came,” in response to the greeting of the chair of a rehab meeting.
Musically, little has changed from Sprained Ankle. There are more layered guitars, the odd bit of piano, some strings in Over and Hurt Less and organ, but it is a sound that remains far from broken. Baker’s music was always more a canvas for the vocals to go on than the main attraction, and the instrumentation serves its purpose here fantastically. It does not detract from the most vulnerable and beautiful moments of the album, yet it swells as and when required. It is rare that the album ever takes on an element of power, but that makes the hit of the loudest and proudest moments all the more poignant.
With Turn Out The Lights Baker has written a collection that can only be referred to as a masterpiece. Nothing is done simply for the sake of it. Every note, lyric, and moment of silence is considered. Not a single second of the album is wasted but nothing feels missing. A shining example of how to make music.