Julien Baker – ‘Turn Out the Lights’

By Mark McConville

She’s a star. A traveller, scorning recklessness, but living on the edge. She’s vulnerable, but trying to cover up her scars and she’s trying to place a barricade around her body. This is Julien Baker’s time to stretch out and show her true talents; it’s her time to mark her position among singer-songwriter paradise. But, when listening to her new record ‘Turn Out The Lights’, the rawness and sadness exudes, it bursts from a capsule of misery.

Yes, she may sing about life’s upheavals and hardships, but there’s no denying the beauty of Baker’s music. It creates a scene in the head, it sparks conversation, and it’s bound in poetry. It rallies home a message of positivity when it’s being attacked by a niggling bout of negativity. And we can only listen to what’s been created, we can only sit and cry to Baker’s soft vocals and her words of pure imagination and realism.

She’s talented, there’s no doubt. ‘Turn out the Lights’ showcases breath-taking eulogies of love smashed and dispersed over hell’s burning stones. Like powder, it’s sprinkled; dotted around, not in a clear pattern. The album will also make the light flicker in a mind usually lit without interference, it will dazzle but will make the listener reflect on their own existence. Are you doing enough? Is your life complete? Or is it crumbling without you even knowing?

‘Appointments’ kick-starts the record in such an emotional way. There’s an atmospheric backdrop, with Baker offering her voice as tool of solace. She seems saddened by a situation, singing “I think if I ruin this/ That I know I can live with it/ Nothing turns out like I pictured it/ Maybe the emptiness is just a lesson in canvases.” These lyrics tell a tale, they force emotion. Baker is a master of stirring emotion; a magician at forming language that evokes.

‘Sour Breath’ is destined to sharpen the emotions too. Baker plays the guitar with ease, shooting for the sky, she organises words into bundles. ‘Happy To Be Here’ is composed with urgency and intent. Baker plays on, with those strings strummed with confidence. She sings on too, naturally using her voice as a template for words written with sombreness.

‘Claws In Your Back’ closes the record with another heart-puller. Baker sings softly, providing a wonderful sound with a sense of range amidst the piano. Centred on abuse and failure, it’s a damning description of life’s ugly side: ‘So try to stay calm, ’cause nobody knows/ The violent partner you carry around/ With claws in your back, ripping your clothes/ And listing your failures out loud.”

Julien Baker has a productive mind. It may not be clean, but it creates beautiful, memorable, songs.

MARK MCCONVILLE

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