Julien Baker’s Turn Out the Lights is Elegantly Brilliant

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Turn Out the Lights, released on October 27, is Julien Baker’s follow-up to her debut album Sprained Ankle, which was released in 2015. Turn Out the Lights is a gorgeous and delicate masterpiece, with a purity of vision that is both wonderful and occasionally suffocating for the listener.

The first track, “Over,” is an instrumental intro that serves as a sort of thesis statement for what the rest of the album will sound like, the gentle string section and mournful piano gradually swelling into the second song. I typically do not like the use of instrumental intros as a means of kicking off an album, as they often feel rather forgettable and unnecessary, but in this case it feels like it serves an actual purpose.

“Appointments,” the second track, is one of the most fragile and gorgeous songs I have heard this year, moving from a gentle, guitar-oriented beginning into a full crescendo, Baker passionately belting her notes at the end of the track. Overall, the vocal arrangement on this song is quite impressive, as Baker’s use of harmony and aforementioned belting at the end feel carefully chosen and placed within the song. Every element of the track seems as though it is exactly where it should be. Thematically, the song touches on two of the most prominent topics on the album: despair and an unclear relationship with God. Baker sings: “I think if I fall again/That I know you’re still listening,” the “fall” she mentions being a depressive state or perhaps a relapse, and the “you” being God. This line stands out to me, as it acknowledges that God hears her while she is in this sad state, but gives no further indication as to whether Baker believes God will actually help her in any way.

“Sour Breath” is another highlight, kicking off with a lightly harmonized guitar riff and eventually resolving into an ambient build that feels as though it is going to fully apex but never does. Baker’s vocals again are perfectly placed, her melody hypnotic and suitably dynamic, tender in the beginning and gradually growing in intensity as the song wraps up. Lyrically, Baker continues to stick with established themes, delivering suitably heart-wrenching lines like “'I’ve still got nowhere to be/and I don't do too well/nobody's worried.”

“Happy to Be Here” is the strongest track from a lyrical perspective on the album. Baker discusses her desire to rewire herself out of her current mental state, singing, in a powerful and effective metaphor, “If I could do what I want/I would become an electrician/I'd climb inside my ears/And I would rearrange the wires in my brain.” Like most of the songs on this album, the instrumentation is sparse, Baker accompanied by a sole electric guitar. Another notable line is “Because I miss you the way that I miss nicotine/If it makes me feel better, how bad could it be”—a gorgeous way of describing longing for something or someone.

My only complaint about the album is actually its purity of vision. Baker selects a tone that is consistently carried throughout the LP and at times I felt like I wanted a slight change from that sound; nothing drastically different, just a bit of extra variety. Seriously, the only albums that are this conceptually and musically consistent that I can think of are Keep You by Pianos Become the Teeth and Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight by Travis Scott, both of which probably appear to be incredibly different from this album. However, this consistent tone also makes the album feel quite cohesive, so I suppose it is a tradeoff worth making. Other than that small qualm there is little here to critique, and altogether, Baker has created something genuinely special.

Rating: 9/10

 

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