Album Review: Julien Baker – “Turn Out the Lights”
Posted: by The Editor
The singer-songwriter is a dying breed. Gone are the days of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, singing with the narrative in mind. It’s a genre that has been mostly abandoned, with very few names of those that remain able to still reach the “household” level. However, Memphis, TN native, Julien Baker, could change the course. The 22-year-old recently released her sophomore LP and Matador Records debut, Turn Out the Lights, a record that showcases a powerful crossover of sounds that could blur harsh genre lines and appeal to many communities.
Baker is known for wistful lyrics and a lavish voice tinted with notes of sorrow. Her debut LP, Sprained Ankle, was well-received by both critics and listeners and introduced the honesty and emotional brutality that define her songwriting. However, Turn Out the Lights, ups the ante and further illustrates how deep Baker is willing to go in her craft.
Her somber voice is newly strong and proud, belting wildly to provoke the pain that holds her down tight. Baker glides over her melodies. With each seamless transition, she moves from a lower register to a much higher one caked in desperation and deeply-dug strength, bolstering the confidence in her voice and proving how powerful it can be.
Baker croons each song like a holy hymn, each word carefully chosen to inspire the listener to feel the weight of her pain. The unwavering and resolute strength of her voice rings out like a chorus of a hundred. This is exemplified best in the bridge of “Shadowboxing” as Baker sings out, “So tell me you love me // Tell me you loved me // I wanted so bad // I wanted so bad to believe you” with a passion and grace that carries the might of many more than herself, pleading for a notion that what was felt was real – a common theme throughout the record.
Her voice is well matched by the smooth, ambient tone of the guitars on the record. Equally adaptable, they are able to be both mighty and meek, dependent on the needs of the song. Baker has always been known for exquisite guitar tone and Turn Out the Lights makes no exception. The guitars chime with a warmth and saturation that can only come from a passionate performance, every note is plucked with soulfulness and care. They layer incredibly underneath Baker’s soothing voice, never overpowering, but always staking their claim to the song. Beneath this is piano foundation driving the rhythm and percussing the song forward. The play between guitar and piano weaves a somber atmosphere for Baker’s voice to fall through soothing and forceful, like the sound of rain.
Turn Out the Lights is an intensely humble and honest record. It crosses into such a range of different musical hemispheres that it’s able to captivate any kind of listener. It is incredibly raw, but polished. Though it carries a lot of emotional weight and touches on self-reflective themes, seldom is loneliness found lingering behind the words. Instead, it feels communal. This is a record meant to be listened to with the ones that you love the most, with your arms interlocked, all feeling vulnerable together.