Pain, sorrow, loss, and ultimately hope—all integral parts of the complex human experience expressed with grace on Julien Baker’s highly anticipated sophomore album, Turn Out The Lights. Mixed by Craig Silvey at the legendary Ardent Studios in Tennessee, Turn Out The Lights showcases Baker’s vulnerability and resilience. Baker uses the album to explore the balance between heartache and hope, and ultimately the in beauty in rising from our ashes.
The first single released off the album, “Appointments”, is introduced by a hauntingly beautiful instrumental track entitled “Over”. The tracks flow seamlessly together, both showing how much Baker has grown since the release of her first full-length record, Sprained Ankle. The 21-year-old reaches new heights on Turn Out The Lights, her sound more expansive than ever. With the addition of piano, strings and woodwind instruments, Baker is able to add even more depth to her music without losing the intimacy she’s known for. “Appointments”, like many of the tracks that follow, speaks to many fears and thoughts we encounter daily about coping with life. However, these fears are not without a silver lining—delicate harmonies sing “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out alright/I know that it’s not/But I have to believe that it is”, reminding us of the importance of never losing hope in the darkest of moments.
This is a theme that remains constant throughout the album, as Baker sings in the title track, “There’s always tomorrow I guess…”. However, the ability to always look to the bright side is not an easy task. “Shadowboxing” grapples with the longing to understand and be understood, and how mental health and personal struggle affects this need. It takes strength to admit that you need to be loved and understood, and Baker does so with grace.
Speaking to this idea, “Sour Breath” explores unrequited love, as Baker cries “You’re everything I want and I’m all you dread.” She repeats, “The harder I swim, the faster I sink”, expressing the struggle that comes with trying to find the light in the dark. The cutting clarity of Baker’s take on human suffering and the sometimes impossibility of happiness is as heartbreaking as it is brilliant.
Also exceptional is Baker’s songwriting ability. To take themes so dark and painful and turn them into something beautiful is a gift, and her honest lyricism and poetic genius have a chance to shine on “Televangelist” and “Everything That Helps You Sleep”. She talks about her “cannibal chest”, a heart set out to destroy itself and her empty ribcage cathedral, often using religious imagery to help illustrate her emotional journey. There is solace in religious spaces, and Baker uses this safe haven to ask questions like “What is it like to feel empty?” and “Lord, is there some way to make it stop?”. This is exactly what allows her to connect with listeners, religious or not, because it is these heavy questions that her listeners often wrestle with every day.
As Turn Out The Lights reaches its final tracks, we see Baker shifting her focus from introspection to a more empathetic space, as she cries for her friend’s pain as well as her own. There is a struggle involving mental health here, and its unpredictable impact on relationships (“I think I can love the sickness you made/ I take it all back/ I change my mind/I wanted to stay”).
Turn Out The Lights is a place of refuge and healing, with Julien Baker radiating hope and stressing the importance of finding a light in the complete and utter darkness that can sometimes encompass us. The album, out October 27th via Matador Records, finds beauty in the messiness and complexity in the human experience, as Julien Baker uses her sorrows to connect with listeners and provide a place of comfort and strength for those who need it most.
Indie | Matador Records