As Julien Baker sits down at the piano a string quartet begins to play. In that minute and twenty-nine seconds set up, Turn Out The Lights reveals itself as an experience that’s going to be just a bit different. This is a serious examination of the nature of relationships, be they gay or straight. At the end of the day the emotions are just the same, like in ‘Appointments’, “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out alright. Oh I know that its not, but I have to believe that it is.”
Unabashedly Christian, proudly gay, and unquestionably talented, Turn Out The Lights is the work of a woman far more mature than her twenty-two years would indicate. Recorded in her hometown at Ardent Studios in Memphis, the album is an incredibly intricate work. And while it may lack the soul vibe of the city, it makes up for it in emotional honesty. Particularly a song like ‘Sour Breath’ where the closing makes it only too clear, “the harder I swim, the faster I sink.”
Primarily piano and guitar driven, the arrangements are often quite sparse. Yet there’s also an amazing sense of fullness to the sound. With just piano, a few strings and a chorus of voices, ‘Hurt Less’ is a tour de force. “See I’ve started wearing seat belts when I’m driving because when I’m with you I don’t have to think about myself and I hurt less.”
Confessional, autobiographical, whatever you want to call it, Julien Baker sings with raw emotion, wearing her heart on her sleeve. But what you see isn’t what you get, few twenty-two year-olds are this self aware. Baker is able to look at herself presenting a sympathetic figure, warts and all. What makes her truly remarkable is her ability to look at herself and her situation without flinching. Coming from a deeply Christian family that not only accepts her as she is, they went so far as to find scriptural references to support her homosexuality when she came out to them at seventeen.
Julien Baker’s emotional honesty is not just intellectually and emotionally appealing. It creates a touch-point for us to look at who we are and where we stand. It’s a plea for acceptance in a world that often seems to judge people from a perspective that tolerates in ourselves what we can’t or won’t tolerate in others. At the end of the day, we are what we are, and Julien Baker is an amazingly open artist who deserves to be judged for her art and her talent, which is prodigious.
Words: Bob Fish