Julien Baker | Sprained Ankle (6131)

cd julien-bakerBaker sings with the confidence of someone who understands the evocative power she possesses and wields masterfully.



I can’t remember who introduced me to Julien Baker. Was it a friend; was it NPR? I honestly can’t recall, though it’s only been a few weeks. Why can’t I? Because it feels like, for those of a particular temperament, Julien Baker has been singing a song that’s been calling to you all of your life, traveling time from here to the past, and back again. It’s appropriate that the paradoxically timeless Sprained Ankle, her solo debut, has now made its way to us.

Baker sings with the confidence of someone who understands the evocative power she possesses and wields it masterfully. It’s not unlike the pout of a child expressing unwarranted disappointment, for which you are responsible. Her delicate, yet acrobat phrasing is soulful and jazzy, without sounding like an artifact of either genre. The youthful register she possesses is underscored by a rasp that gives her utterances an urgency and fragility, and that puts you on edge, rapt in the beauty of its humanity. The world-weary ache in her voice sounds haunted.

What makes Sprained Ankle marvelous is that this same depth of skill and talent infects Baker’s spare arrangements and production choices. As a guitar player, her command of ornate passages, usage of silence as breaths, and cathartic rhythm complement her singing symbiotically. The passages where reverb and delay saturate the guitar are so deft in their execution that it feels orchestral. The general absence of percussion, save for the climatic introduction of bass drum at opportune times, drives this feeling home all the more. The power and beauty of these instruments is potent enough to recalibrate your musical sensibilities, with Sprained Ankle as the new standard.

This album is hypnotic. If you pay attention, the sound  echoes the most poignant of revelations, heightening their impact. And for all the beauty and passion evident in the music, these songs serve the thoughtfulness and sincerity of the written words that grace them. The album reads as personal narrative, as poetic verse, as heartfelt declarations. In all of the nine songs, the abundance of personal truth and palpable melancholy leave you feeling broken on her behalf, empathy passing from you to the ether, like a lifeline. A | Willie Edward Smith

RIYL: Death Cab for Cutie, Patty Griffin, City & Colour, Mindy Smith, Kevin Devine, Des Ark, Land of Talk

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