A low-key yet passionate album, Baker's sophomore effort is a deeply moving reflection on mental health.
Singer-songwriter Julien Baker has amassed herself quite the fanbase since her debut album Sprained Ankle in 2015. An artist who bears all for her work, Baker’s music is incredibly heartfelt and, as such, it’s easy to see how fans have been able to access her work and find themselves so connected to the 22-year old Memphis born artist. Turn Out The Lights is no different for Baker, an album that hides no scars nor conceals any wounds, it’s a sophomore effort that is as much a coming of age for the young artist as it is a likely mainstream breakout.
Instrumentally, Baker’s work is rather simplistic, based solely on simple chord work from both guitar and piano, but it’s the powerful lyrics that prove to be Turn Out The Lights‘ real draw. On ‘Appointments’ Baker sings “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out all right/And I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is”, a rousing statement on mental health, Baker wants to keep her head above the water to maintain appearances but feels the weight still pulling her down. As the song builds and her cries louden, Baker’s statement strikes even harder, “And when I tell you that it is/Oh, it’s more for my benefit”, it’s simply written yet utterly devastating. The title track continues this cathartic trend, “When I turn out the lights/There’s no one left/Between myself and me”, this is an artist plunging into the depths of their emotions to convey their anguish in their art in its barest form, Baker’s voice proving to be just as loud of an instrument as anything on the album, her range and delivery is impeccable.
Turn Out The Lights is admittedly a slow burn, they are patient and low energy songs that seek to soak in, as opposed to acting as a spectacle. This is an album of solid construction and instrumentation, see ‘Sour Breath’ – which packs yet another moving hook, “The harder I swim, the faster I sink” – and ‘Televangelist’, which further show Baker’s talents as a songwriter, her linear technique and build providing the album with swelling emotion that bursts forth in a reflective manner. But Turn Out The Lights is let down by a lack of variation, there are a few songs which easily meld into one and fail to really stand apart. When Baker reaches the highs, the album truly soars and becomes a moving piece, but it does get bogged down in too much of the same thing unfortunately.
But, ultimately, what Julien Baker provides is a heartbreaking construct of self-worth and mental health, exhibiting strong songwriting and an excellent vocal performance. There have been a number of albums on mental health in 2017 thus far, Baker’s may not push the top tier but nonetheless shows an artist with a sharp lyrical mind, who isn’t afraid to unleash herself and expose everything within for her music.
Turn Out The Lights is available now via Matador Records.