Julien Baker’s voice is a show stopper.
I remember the first time I heard it. I was listening through a compilation – a fundraiser for the victims of the Orlando shootings last year. There was a few punk and emo bands I liked that had caught my interest, plus a handful of artists that I hadn’t heard of. Baker’s contribution came on and I stopped what I was doing.
Who. Is. That?!
It was the part in “Rejoice” where Baker really starts belting it out: “I think there’s a God and he hears either waaaa-aaaa-aaa-aaaay”. What a voice!
A quick Google search led me to Bandcamp, and within minutes after I’d downloaded Baker’s album, Sprained Ankle. It became my go-to for times that I wanted to listen to something quiet and relaxing – that wind-down album for just before bed.
It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t the only one who had stumbled upon Baker. I began spotting her name more and more frequently – a Noisey article here, an interview there. Friends shared her Audiotree session on nerdy Facebook music groups. All who heard her voice fell in love [save for Arctic Drones writer Foofer, who remains staunchly opposed to her “Tumblr girl emo music”].
Now I’m not usually one to listen to lyrics. Post-rock – a generally vocal-less genre – dominates my listening habits. And my favourite band, Biffy Clyro, sing nonsense. But Baker’s music is so stark that I can’t help but pick up on what she’s singing.
She covers some heavy content. Identifying as both gay and Christian, she finds herself in a conundrum. Is she loved? Is she condemned to hell? Many of her songs explore the theme of acceptance.
The lyric that caught me off guard:
“If I could do what I want, I’d become an electrician
I’d crawl inside my ears and I’d rearrange the wires in my brain”
And then, just to up the ante, the following song starts with this verse:
“I used to never wear a seatbelt ’cause I said I didn’t care what happened
And I didn’t see the point in trying to save myself from an accident”
… woah. That’s heavy.
That sucks. To feel that you are a mistake, that you shouldn’t be who you are. Although the music is relatable. Who hasn’t felt self-doubt at some point of their life?
I find her struggle compelling, and hope that she can come to terms with who she is in a way that stops hurting. Sadly, as much as I sympathise with her, I feel that the emotion she injects into her music is what sets it apart in the first place. By channeling her pain she can summon something within that truly stands out when she releases it.
Sad Tumblr girl emo music indeed. But Baker’s articulate honesty resonates. And the music supports it perfectly. Sombre piano twinkling and tender guitar picking. Violin enhances the music at times, but on the whole its a case of simple arrangements to support the key attraction: Baker’s voice.
Baker has an incredible voice. Raw and emotive, she simply shines. Some tracks use vocal layering to great effect, with Baker both softly cooing, and belting out harmonies in the background. Just listen to the chorus on the title track. There’s nothing quite like hearing a good singer let loose like that. Goosebump material for sure. As nice as the fragile singing sounds, it feels so satisfying to hear her defiant screams against rejection.
Whatever your reason, give this powerful, intimate and cathartic masterpiece a listen.
Julien Baker links:
Buy/stream Turn Out The Lights: http://mat-r.co/TurnOutTheLights