In this edition of IN PRAISE OF, we explore Julien Baker's sophomore album and it's flurry of critical praise...
"Turn Out the Lights, Julien Baker’s second solo album and Matador Records debut, marks her formal entry as a boldface name in the indie rock world. She catapulted here on the strength of her self-released 2015 debut, Sprained Ankle, nine songs that spawned a devoted fanbase and, in the twinkling title track, a contemporary classic. With spare, solo guitar and unfailing honesty, Baker grappled with enormous subjects of God, pain, and death. Now, as if acknowledging her newfound audience, she’s upgraded to rich, high-fidelity arrangements that flip her grey sound into deep blue." - SPIN
"After signing to indie powerhouse Matador Records, Baker is now poised for even brighter lights and bigger stages. But she keeps a tight grip on the reins on the new Turn Out The Lights, which she self-produced at in her hometown’s legendary Ardent Studios.
As Baker digs into mental health, relationships, faith, and adulthood, Turn Out The Lights is, understandably, absolutely crushing. Nearly every song has a devastating turn of phrase.
But there’s also a newfound, weary optimism beneath it all. In “Happy To Be Here”—whose guitar recalls Jimmy Eat World’s similarly somber “Roller Queen”—Baker sings of becoming an electrician to fix her “faulty circuitry,” saying, “I heard there’s a fix for everything, then why not me?” Yet whether hopeful or wallowing, Turn Out The Lights is beautifully crafted throughout, full of the kinds of songs that linger long after they’ve ended. Baker doesn’t make it easy, but fans wouldn’t have it any other way." - The A.V. Club
"The Tennessee songwriter’s first album on Matador wrestles with many of the same demons that populated her chilling debut 'Sprained Ankle' in 2015. In her cracked but steady voice, a voice trained on pop-punk in her band Forrister and later subdued to spare, acoustic rock, Baker appeals to God. She asks familiar questions: Am I enough? Do I deserve to be here? Will I ever be OK? In the album’s final moments, she at last settles on something like an answer. “I think I can love the sickness you made,” she sings. “I want it to stay.” She thunders out the last syllable in an unbridled belt, the kind that sparks full-body shivers no matter how fortified your guard may be. Her voice echoes into what sounds like a cavernous space, and then you hear her close the lid of the piano, the heavy work of catharsis behind her." - Pitchfork
"The Baker of 'Sprained Ankle' escaped death by, as she saw it, a cruel act of God, awaking in a hospital bed to see if healing her body would be enough to heal her mind. Three years on, she knows it’s not, and Turn Out the Lights directs its attention to the dark night of the soul. Its narrator’s struggles are bound up inextricably with a Christian faith seemingly as unshakeable as her pessimism. She calls the stars in the sky “puncture marks” and “perforated dark,” connecting holy stigmata and self-harm. In “Blacktop,” the first song on Sprained Ankle, she described crashing her car into a streetlight. Lights offers a sequel of sorts, “Hurt Less,” where she confesses she used to care so little for herself she didn’t bother wearing a seatbelt. “When I’m pitched through the windshield I hope the last thing that I felt before the pavement / Was my body float, I hope my soul goes too,” she sings." - SPIN
"Baker’s lyrics have always been at the heart of proceedings, and this album is no different: it’s still confessional, honest and intensely personal in the same way Sprained Ankle was. Turn out the Lights is a searing insight into what it’s like to struggle with mental illness, but Baker also explores the impact of this on her relationships. In this way it can also be seen as a break up record, something especially true of “Sour Breath”, with its first line of “I know you do better when you’re by yourself / free from the weight of my dirt poor health”. The song captures the heartbreak of the strain mental illness can put on your loved ones, exploring its repetitive drudgery and how hard it can be to break out of, no matter how hard you try (“the harder I swim, the faster I sink” is repeated until the end).
"It’s not hard to see that many struggling with mental illness will be able to relate to this album, a cathartic display of raw emotion. However, 'Turn out the Lights' is about wanting to survive too. The lead single “Appointments” perhaps sums this up best with the line: “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out alright / and I know that it’s not / but I have to believe that it is”. It’s this side to her work that makes it ultimately a healing experience." - The Line Of Best Fit
'Turn Out The Lights' is out now on Matador Records.