Julien Baker review: A nakedly personal document of pain

Fri, Oct 27, 2017, 05:00

   
 

Album:
Turn Out the Lights

Artist:
Julien Baker

Label:
Matador

Genre:
Singer / Songwriter

There is a rough candidness to Julien Baker’s lyrics that can puncture the soul. The abrupt shocking fashion in which she chews out the line “I know that I’m evil” on the track Even, a bruising look at an abusive relationship, her voice thin and delicate as if attempting to dissolve a lump in her throat.

It’s a familiar aching fragility to be found in Elliott Smith’s back catalogue or the more reflective moments of Sufjan Stevens. Comparisons have also been made to Perfume Genius but the theatricality and dark archness of Mike Hadreas work is absent here.

At times, Turn Out the Lights is so nakedly personal it plays like an album of torn-out diary entries, and it feels as intrusive as hearing a neighbour’s twilight sobs leaking through a partition wall.

There is barely any escape from this tormented state musically as the arrangements are spartan, with most accompaniment being piano or guitar and the simple, almost choral melodies there to accentuate Baker’s voice, which can unleash a hurricane of hurt at will.

There is some beauty to be found in this brutal landscape: the chiming Appointments issues a hopeful if slightly doubtful message that “maybe it’s all gonna turn out all right”. On an album this fraught, it’s about as optimistic as it gets.