Review Summary: New glow, same touchTurn Out the Lights
, while not quite reaching the heights of the brilliant Sprained Ankle
, is the most logical progression one could expect from Julien Baker. It takes the sparse arrangements and raw beauty of the debut makes it all more expansive, adding some extra instruments and more intense climaxes. While the understated piano intro “Over” wallows in its (admittedly effective) melancholy, “Appointments” immediately unrolls the new stylistic traits of Turn Out the Lights
as if Baker has always been waiting for this very moment to strike the listener so hard. After a succession of quiet piano/guitar verses, the final minute or so is possibly the strongest showing of her vocal abilities so far (even more than Rejoice). The instruments get louder and warmer, as Baker’s belting sounds more like a wonderful exorcism than merely a performance.
One could argue that Turn Out the Lights
is basically a musical exorcism in general, really. Whereas Sprained Ankle
was more of a lament of Baker’s shortcomings and deeply flawed history, this record takes a decidedly warmer and more acknowledging tone toward similar subjects. And much of that comes from those “new stylistic traits” I mentioned before. To elaborate on that, what I mean is that the minimalism and starkness aren’t really out in full force like they were on Baker’s debut. There’s more piano playing, more soft/loud dynamic shifts, more vocal variety, and more variation in atmosphere. While there’s still an undeniable darkness lurking about Turn Out the Lights
, songs like “Shadowboxing” and “Happy to Be Here” display the singer-songwriter’s willingness to face herself head-on, the latter being a particularly potent look at her struggles with drug addiction and therapy. Then there’s the phenomenal level of contrast on “Sour Breath,” in which Baker keeps singing “the harder I swim, the faster I sink” over gradually louder and more triumphant instruments in the background. And what’s incredible is that, no matter how much she tries new things with her style, her signature style is still here. The wispy guitar tone that’s washed in reverb, the smooth-yet-flawed vocal performances, and the lack of any percussion whatsoever are still traits of Turn Out the Lights
just as they were with Sprained Ankle
. In fact, we have a few songs that could be seen as continuations of past songs, such as the similarities between “Televangelist” and Sprained Ankle
’s “Go Home.” Both are piano-centric numbers that are steeped in religious imagery and themes of reverence, still taking different lyrical approaches but with similar concepts. Honestly, that’s the best way I can describe the entirety of Turn Out the Lights
. If Sprained Ankle
was the sound of someone falling into a pit of melancholy and desperation, Turn Out the Lights
is the sound of the same person crawling out of the pit and seeking recovery. The first one might be more interesting, but don’t you also want to hear how the person made it through"