In late 2015 a record made its way into my heart with the simple, swift devastation of a petal falling off a bough. The record was called Sprained Ankle, and it was written by a nineteen-year-old from Tennessee named Julien Baker who was still in college. I distinctly remember the day she spoke with my then coworker over the phone — on a lunch break from her college job — to talk about recording the album at Matthew E. White’s Spacebomb Studio in Virginia. Considering 2015 and Spacebomb had also given us the lush, humid beauty of Natalie Prass earlier that year, it seemed the Spacebomb cohort were onto something big. Of course they were.
In the past twelve months, I’ve watched this record be passed around from friend to friend, site to site, with a sort of holy reverence. It’s so stark and simple, her voice is so clear and innocent, there’s an utter lack of pretension that feels like a balm in an era of snark, hate and ironic dismissal. Sprained Ankle is essentially a singer/songwriter album, though it’s one of the strongest entries in that genre I’ve heard in the past decade or so. Baker’s writing voice is immediately identifiable for its Biblical high-stakes and childlike simplicity, her voice unshakeable, gentle, and so full of yearning it takes me back to my own teenage moments.