Julien Baker is an indie-folk singer-songwriter from Memphis. She’s only 19 years old and is currently enrolled at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, which is a 3 1/2 hour drive from Memphis. When I read that she was at MTSU, I naturally assumed that she was in the audio engineering program that Sharon Van Etten dropped out of and that Alicia Bognanno from Bully graduated from. As it turns out, Baker is actually an English major who spends a lot of time with the audio engineering folks.
Back in Memphis, she was in a band called Forrester, which has been described as a lot of things, including “emo”, “blues-y”, “rockabilly”, and “punk”. I don’t know anything firsthand about the one album that Forrester put out, but I do know that I like her solo record very much. It’s got a lot of qualities that remind me sometimes of Sharon Van Etten and sometimes of Leslie Feist.
These are very well-crafted songs with some heavy subject matter. More often than not, the guitar is delicate and airy, and wrapped in a bit of gauze. Although she occasionally belts her lyrics loudly and aggressively, they’re also, for the most part, really restrained, gentle, and pretty. Add everything together, and the result is something that’s really great. Extremely fragile, but great.
Sprained Ankle just came out yesterday, and I stumbled upon it somewhere. I immediately downloaded it after listening to about half of the title track. And then I listened to the album three times yesterday. It’s hard to pick a “favorite song”, but I do like this one quite a bit. If for no other reason, than for its fragility.
“Vessels” by Julien Baker
I love the minimalism of it. I love the reverb on the guitar. I love that there’s lots of open space and that the open space is allowed to be a big part of the song. It’s airy and beautiful and comforting. And although the song swells a little near the end, it doesn’t ever get bigger than it needs to be.
It’s a song that I like a lot, and an album that shows an incredible amount of promise for this young woman. Although the album wasn’t on my radar, it’s been a terrific surprise. This year has been so good that I could very easily make a year-end top 100 albums list and still have to leave some great records off. This one could very well end up in the upper half of my “50 Favorite Albums” year-end list.
You can grab a digital download of Sprained Ankle for just $5 USD via bandcamp here.