Take a look at many of the top albums of 2015 lists and you’ll find an album called Sprained Ankle by Memphis, Tennessee’s Julien Baker. It was initially released on Bandcamp as an EP, but it’s re-release through 6131 Records on October 23, 2015 brought praise from many. The album is like pulling back the skin of many trials and tribulations of Baker – you almost feel guilty of the personal snapshot that you get with listening to this album. It’s minimal, apologetically touches on the subjects that hits us deep the most, and is triumphant in that way. Baker’s set at Rough Trade NYC was also just as powerful from a minimal standpoint.
The sold out crowd was the loudest at intermission before Baker came up to the stage tuning her guitar, preparing to go into her nine song set. There were blue lights, no barricade to where fans can be right up against the stage where you can get lost in the music. There have been bands I’ve seen with as many as six members and not have that type of hold on a venue like Julien Baker did. The first song Baker played that goes by the title of album, is inviting with its dream-like guitar chords and also, the subject matter. The song itself is almost a welcome into an imperfect person – who finds solstice in streaming her pain in front of audiences, but finds it hard to talk about her problems with the person she loves the most. As a fellow creative, I completely level with that notion. We almost bleed out with every pen stroke, every guitar chord, and every creative release into the world. This was her at her most vulnerable which is also admirable because it takes courage to put your ills out there for the world to pick apart.
If you listen to Sprained Ankle, it may be as real as listening to yourself and the issues that you struggle with. When you see Julien Baker live, you feel ok to be with other people who aren’t perfect. That’s what we all were. I feel that not only are we impressed with her musical ability, we are actively participating in a little of ourselves. In concerts, you are used to the same fidgety, almost clumsy nature of some Snapchat video of someone recording a song. There was very little of that – almost if all the air out of the room had been taken with the exception of Baker pouring her heart out into the venue. The encore, which was “Go Home”, was a somber ending to an emotionally heavy show. This was one of the most honest shows I’ve been to in a long time. I shout at the mountaintop when I find a new artist I like and while I hope everybody has found her music already, consider this a rousing endorsement of a strong woman and her guitar.