As she muses aloud about whether it’s better to raise a child to be compassionate but naive, or shrewd but callous, I think of my own tendency toward the willful naivety of a bleeding heart, the way it has been ironically challenging to the people I love most. I think of my partner’s concern when I would pick up hitchhikers, loan money I might never get back, miss important personal obligations because I felt I was morally moved to attend a march or demonstration protesting one of this administration’s innumerable injustices. I think of my mother negotiating the line between insulation and exposure, of the times when my fragile adolescent ego was wounded by the brass tacks she considered a vital part of education.
Last night at NPR Music’s ‘Turning The Tables Live’ concert and discussion, moderator Ann Powers asked Phoebe Bridgers about a new project with her, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus. Phoebe confirmed it was real.
Yeah, I am here for this.
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.”