She continues, sinking deeper into the question: “The narrative of the record is about starting off with this idea that because there are things about you that are challenging, difficult or ugly—or that you perceive as broken—that those things need to be eradicated because there are Bad things or Good things—capital B, capital G—and I just don’t think that that’s true. I’ve learned throughout the last couple of years from life that probably the [opposite] is true. That ugliest and most challenging parts of ourselves are often the things that make us most human and are our most precious tools in relating to each other.”
There’s a moment on “Sour Breath,” one of the many highlights on Julien Baker’s second album Turn Out The Lights, where the strings swell, the guitar strums pick up, and Baker’s vocals slowly build until the floor drop outs from under us and her voice breaks through the silence – “The harder I swim, the faster I sink.” It’s a jaw-dropping moment in an album that’s full of them. And stringing those moments together are cathartic confessions throughout Turn Out The Lights – an once-in-a-lifetime album that’ll leave you speechless.
Turn Out The Lights – once again self-produced by Baker – possesses a richer, fuller sound than 2015’s Sprained Ankle while still maintaining its intimate, minimal appeal. The imagery on the album is stunning and the album’s eleven tracks continues to accurately paint a picture of living with depression while struggling with the idea that she’s been rejected by romantic partners, close friends, God, and even herself. Songs like the title track, “Happy To Be Here,” and “Hurt Less” depict those thoughts perfectly.
The album’s title track is a deconstruction of what it can feel like to live with depression. “There’s a hole in the drywall still not fixed. I just haven’t gotten around to it. And besides I’m starting to get used to the gap” is an incredibly accurate look at existing with functional depression while the lyrics “So you wish you could find some way to help. Don’t be so hard on myself. So why is it easy for everyone else?” recalls the outside world’s infuriating interpretation of it. And it’s the song’s haunting conclusion that acknowledges the album’s overall battle, as Baker reveals, “When I turn out the lights there’s no one left between myself and me.”
Jia Tolentino, writing at The New Yorker:
When she was twelve, she made her dad take her to see Underoath, a post-hardcore band that, like her, circles Christian ideas without courting a specifically Christian fan base. “It revolutionized my world to watch someone imploring the audience in that way,” Baker said. (She has a stick-and-poke tattoo of the band’s logo.) It was soon after this that she got into the local punk scene. “A house show feels like a true faith community, socialist and communal,” she said. “The lead singer is less than two feet away from thirty people who are screaming the same thing. Punk teaches the same inversion of power as the Gospel—you learn that the coolest thing about having a microphone is turning it away from your own mouth.”
This first impression was originally posted as a live blog for supporters in our forums on October 20th, 2017. First impressions are meant to be quick, fun, initial impressions on an album or release as I listen to it for the first time. It’s a running commentary written while listening to an album — not a review. More like a diary of thoughts. This post has been lightly edited for structure and flow.
It’s been too long since I’ve done one of these.
It’s been a while since there’s been a really hyped album coming out that felt right for something like this. But, this Julien Baker album seems just about perfect as we move into fall. Her last album, Sprained Ankle, is one of my favorite fall albums and it’s only a matter of time until this one cements itself in my cold weather rotation as well. In many ways it takes what the first album did and expands upon it in every way. It reminds me a little bit of how Manchester Orchestra took ILAVLAC and enhanced a variety of different aspects of that sound, and their songwriting, to take it up another level for METN. That’s the feeling I get from this album. It takes Julien’s songwriting to a new level, maintains the “it” factor that solidifies her as one of the most exciting and talented voices in music right now, and puts her in rarified air. It’s the kind of album I could see us talking about for years.
In a year that’s been filled with so many new albums, it’s hard to pick out the ones that I think will live a life longer than just this year. The ones that we will return to, talk about, and obsess over for years to come. What are the next classics? The next great albums? The ones all of us remember as the year it came out? I’ve heard a few this year that I think are in contention, albums that have knocked me on my ass, brought a huge smile to my face, and left me speechless … and then “Claws in Your Back” finished and I looked down at the hair standing straight up on my arm. Jesus. That’s new.
Jon Pareles, writing for The New York Times:
“Sprained Ankle,” was a measured cry in the wilderness, a distillation of solitary despair. Just two years later, “Turn Out the Lights” is the work of a songwriter who has resonated with an international audience and who is moving beyond the apocalyptic self-absorption of adolescence. It’s the rare second album that, despite new self-consciousness, stretches beyond an unspoiled debut to reach for even bigger things, with all its passion intact.
“Once we finished recording it, in January, there was a lot of anxiety for me,” Ms. Baker said. “Is it too similar? Is it too different? How can you be afraid of both of those things at the same time?” She laughed. “But I somehow was.”
As The Decemberists took to the stage at The Fillmore in Philadelphia, it became obvious that they could have played a room worlds larger than the largest club venue in Philadelphia if they desired. The rapturous sold out crowd of 3,000 roared back the words to the opening salvo, the three-part odyssey “The Crane Wife”, from the album of the same name that recently turned ten years old. The fact that they booked the “Shuffling Off to Ragnarok” tour at venues such as this, though, speaks to a desire for intimacy; a desire to hear and be heard, a desire to share a smaller space with the people who care most about them.