Review Summary: The steps to being a better person and the stories of disappointing yourself along the way...
Julien Baker, a name that needs no introduction, is a much-needed breath of fresh air in Indie Rock. Don't get me wrong...there is next to nothing flashy here. Most songs are 2 or 3 chords with rhythm and lead guitar inter-playing, maybe some piano, and background noise here or there, but some songs, don't even have that. It's just you, Julien, and the music, but most importantly, there is the story she is telling.
What exactly is that story? To put it bluntly, it's the telling of Julien's recovery from a life of alcoholism, drug abuse, and the search for god. Julien believes she deserves a second chance but she pulls no punches at her own expense. She is constantly tearing herself down. In her early 20's, however. her early search for redemption and self-satisfaction is really something to admire.
To say that I admire Julien's "heart on your sleeve" style of writing akin to Conor Oberst or Jesse Lacey, would be an understatement. The way she describes things such as rejection, ("I've kissed enough bathroom sinks to make up for the loves who never loved me.") faith, (Asking him why did you let them leave and then make me stay?) regret, ("Know my name and all of my hideous mistakes!") and acceptance ("I know, I shouldn't act this way in public. I know I shouldn't make my friends all worried, when I go out.) are really beautiful and haunting. Definitely even a step above some of her contemporaries.
I have already said that the music is simple, right? That's not a bad thing though. It's stripped back, raw, exposed, and fragile. Julien's soft strums of her guitar so delicate and precise. Heating up in an explosion resulting in some of the best moments on the album when Julien just lets go and screams her heart out. (IE: Rejoice, Everybody Does, and Go Home.)
Sprained Ankle may not be for everyone, with its often fairly slow pace, simple musicianship, emotional/dark lyricism, and very indie vocals. I could easily see why someone would just pass over Sprained Ankle as merely another Indie album that just didn't click.
Fans of Brand New, Elliott Smith, Bright Eyes, and Kevin Devine owe it to themselves to check out Julien Baker's debut Sprained Ankle.