Julien Baker’s Turn Out the Lights is no soggy safe indie folk, it’s cathartic narrative. Delivered with intensity and directness, her emotionally potent lyrics spring forth in earnest, agonisingly etched from the wretched corners of her mind. Even for a writer so young, she draws from a life well-lived, inhabiting the heavy mantle of the archetypically damaged songwriter.
The second LP after Tennessee native’s acclaimed solo debut Sprained Ankle, Turn Out the Lights builds itself around the 22-year-old’s internal struggles and brutal self-interrogations. As an artist, Baker’s finer moments arrive as she’s coming a little unstrung. The Tennessee singer-songwriter doesn’t hold back. Her inward-looking explorations hit pay dirt as they navigate a world mired in tortured relationships, substance abuse, shattered faith and mental illness.
“The harder I swim the faster I sink,” Baker implores throughout ‘Sour Breath’. If there’s a single moment that draws you into this 22-year-old singer-songwriter’s tangled mindset, it’s here. The album’s biggest moment comes with ‘Appointments’ extended with the addition of quasi-introduction ‘Over’. But slow burner ‘Sour Breath’, ‘Even’, the strident ‘Shadowboxing’ and the finger pointing ‘Claws in Your Back’ bristle with a similar resonance. Baker knows when to hold back and her ultra-minimal sound comes readymade for delivering heartache and emotional punchlines.
In addition to her potent voicing and typically sparing guitar work she’s also opted for some more lavish embellishments of strings, piano figures and multiple vocal trackings. The result is as sparse and desolate, but also a grander species of music than that of Sprained Ankle. It’s an overall more elaborate and ambitious long-player but at its core, it’s still gentle touches of restraint and beautiful moments of devastation that define Baker as an artist.