Julien Baker’s “Turn Out the Lights” Album Review

Alex St. Peters
Web Editor/Writer
astpeters@lc.edu
Julien Baker sitting at table
Julien Baker in “Appointments” music video. Photo provided by Spin.com

Her 2015 debut album, “Sprained Ankle”, was very personal, depressing, and had a sense that it was made in isolation. It was almost like finding lost recordings of person and their battle with depression. At times it felt as if you were invading her deepest thoughts throughout the album. Every song Baker has written has apart of her life in it and they’re extremely personal.

Two years later, Baker has released her second album “Turn Out the Lights” on Matador Records. Just as she did in her debut album, “Sprained Ankle”, Baker revisits her dilemma of being gay and also a Christian Woman. Christianity often preaches peace and acceptance of everybody but also has a negative view towards the LGBTQ+ community. For Baker, this causes an internal issue of wanting to be a woman of faith but is viewed negatively by the same community she wants to be apart of because of who she is.

At times in the album you can actually feel the pain and uncertainty in Baker’s soul-piercing voice. She pours everything she’s got into every song on this album. A trend that is often repeated in each song is Baker coming in with a quiet, soft voice, but then increasing to roaring cry by the songs end. When Baker goes from soft to roaring it makes you feel something real inside and you can’t say that about a lot of music that is made today.

In the opening track on the album, “Over”, it starts off with a door opening, rattling sound of some keys, and a person (Baker) walking up to a piano and start to play. In the last song on the album, “Claws in Your Back”, it ends with the closing of a piano key cover.

The album is meant to be a narrative of Baker’s life and she is the narrator of this story. I find it interesting that Baker chose to make it seem like she sat down to play out this narrative and doesn’t get up until she’s finished. This really ties the whole album together and really smacks home the fact that every lyric means something to Baker and is her real experiences.

My favorite song on the album is the first lyrical track on the album “Appointments.” The song is about not being able to express the feelings you have in your head, but also trying to be there for another person. In the song, Baker knows her relationship with this person is not the best, but she has no motivation to fix it. It shows that depression can really affect a person so much that they start to accept everything bad that happens to them and that they feel like there’s no reason to make things better. As the song goes on though Baker feels like things will maybe be ok, but at the same time she knows that they won’t. Even though she believes things won’t get better she tries her best to believe that things will get better.

After the success of her debut album, Baker has come to realize that her music is an escape for some people who are also battling their own depression. She tries to mix the good with the bad throughout this album. She wants to let people know that they aren’t alone in the problems they have, but they are other people going through the same thing. She also shows that the best way to overcome your own demons is to accept that they are apart of you, but you should not let them define who you are.

In the song “Shadowboxing” Baker explains her ongoing battle with her own demons. She sings “When you watch me throwing punches at the devil it just looks like I’m fighting with me.” In depression, most battles are not with an outside source, but often something that is battled within yourself.

Another interesting part of the album is in the final song “Claws in Your Back.” In an interview, Baker explains that the final song is supposed to be contrasting to the final song, “Go Home”, on her 2015 album Sprained Ankle. In “Go Home” Baker is contemplating suicide and ends the song screaming the words “God, I wanna go home.” To go with the overall theme of the album that you can live with your demons as long as you don’t let them control your life.

Unlike the end of “Go Home” Baker decides that she can love herself and the world. She doesn’t want to kill herself and again screaming at the end she belts out “’Cause I take it all back, I change my mind/I wanted to stay/I wanted to stay.”

If you’re looking for some new music to listen to I would highly recommend not only giving “Turn Out the Lights” a listen, but also “Sprained Ankle” a listen as well. Both of Julien Baker’s albums are terrific and real. She sings about the hard topics such as depression, religion, suicide, and identity problems that many others don’t ever tackle. In a music scene filled with unrealistic views on life and fakeness. Julien Baker is a beacon of hope for music that actually means something and helps people find peace within themselves.

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