Julien Baker

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Sprained Ankle (2015), 6.5/10
Turn Out the Lights (2017), 6/10
Little Oblivions (2021), 5/10
Boygenius: The Record (2023), 5/10

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Nashville's singer-songwriter Julien Baker debuted at the age of 20 with the stripped-down, solitary, folksy, "voice and guitar" Sprained Ankle (2015), a self-portrait as a manic-depressed former-addict lesbian Christian. The album contains stark and melancholy emo-folk elegies. It's a parade of devastatingly honest confessional dirges about depression, addiction and heartbreak, one of the saddest albums to ever come out of Nashville (the headquarter of country music), especially for a woman. Songs like Blacktop and Good News coin a sort of grief-trance. The anemic laments Brittle Boned and Vessels belong to the kind of bleeding folk music for unremarkable vocals pioneered by Nick Drake in the 1960s. At the other end of the spectrum, Baker also delivers the slightly vibrant, more musical Everybody Does and Go Home (which replaces the guitar with a piano).

Turn Out the Lights (2017) employed a wide range of arrangements (electric guitars, piano, horns, strings), but the result was a slightly more monotonous experience, instead of the desired opposite. Songs like Appointments flirt with chamber-pop (piano, clarinet and saxophone). The more refined music does not dispel the sense of existential nothingness that pervades songs like Turn Out the Lights and lyrics like "The harder I swim, the faster I sink" (the closing couplet of Sour Breath). Shadowboxing and the hypnotizing closer Claws in Your Back also stand out.

Baker then formed the super-girlgroup Boygenius with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. They released the EP Boygenius (2018).

A bigger sound was the obvious goal of Little Oblivions (2021), on which she played all the instruments, like a veritable "one-woman band", besides composing all the songs. Thematically a repetition of the topics of addiction and mental health that made her famous, it boasts even more daring arrangements (Hardline, Heatwave, the poppy Faith Healer, de facto a detour into mainstream music, and even the synth-heavy Crying Wolf) and nadirs of depression in Relative Fiction and especially Song In E. Overall, the instrumental arrangements don't do much to make the music more powerful. They only make it easier to digest.

Despite the hype, Boygenius's first full-length album, The Record (2023), was underwhelming. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus cook up very little of notice, just Not Strong Enough and Satanist.

(Copyright © 2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )