Julien Baker’s inventive poetry captured themes of loss, rejection and self-actualization in her sophomore album, Turn Out the Lights.
The Memphis artist and guitarist of alternative rock band Forrister released the solo album Oct. 27 following the release of her single “Appointments” in August.
Baker centered the project primarily on her voice and minimalist instruments — including piano and guitar. Certain tracks, however, also included contributions from power-pop band Sorority Noise’s Cameron Boucher and Nashville violinist Camille Faulkner.
Baker danced with her demons in her 2015 album Sprained Ankle, which focused on topics such as mental illness and substance abuse in a way that felt quivering with despair and fear.
Baker captures that same emotional intensity, but grapples and struggles with the idea of recovery in Turn Out the Lights, in a way that feels like a roller coaster of conflicting feelings.
The album begins with “Over,” a soft, voiceless piano track. The tune feels classic — yet there’s a sadness lingering in it that feels individual to her.
“Over” pours seamlessly into “Appointments” as if they were one. Baker sings softly and sweetly, mourning the person she was — the one that her partner fell in love with. The track tells the story of a relationship failing due to her declining mental health.
Throughout the album, we see Baker similarly struggle with her mental health, and the knowledge that pieces of her life — including relationships and her sobriety — suffer accordingly. As she tries to recover, Baker is faced with an inner dialogue that she is disappointing others, and maybe should just give up entirely.
In “Happy to Be Here,” Baker recounts going through the motions of recovery, even though she sincerely doesn’t believe it will work. She dreams to no avail of an easy fix, with lyrics like, “Well I heard there’s a fix to everything … then why not me?”
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Baker makes her experiences relatable through the abstract, personifying trauma as “the violent partner you carry around with claws in your back, ripping your clothes and listing your failures out loud” in the album’s closing track.
As the album comes to a close in “Claws in Your Back,” the track ends with the repetition of the lines “I wanted to stay,” which Baker absolutely cries out in prolonged notes. It feels empowering. It feels inspired. It seems to somehow seep under your skin.
For the first time in the album, Baker has seemingly found her voice. Her loud, almost shrieking exclamation serves in direct contrast to the opening of the album.
While in “Over,” she was voiceless, by the end of “Claws in Your Back,” she could no longer be silenced.
The entire album, dancing around the question of life or death, presents Baker with the choice to give in to the monsters that will always haunt her, or live despite them.
Baker chose life.
And through one album alone, her audience is left trembling with a story that is completely raw and her own.