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.
Baker writes songs about weakness that make the listener feel stronger, tracing below-the-surface vulnerabilities like blue veins under translucent skin, power pulsing through them. She’s also openly embraced her complicated status as a young queer, Christian southerner, a combination of competing identities that help inform her nuanced, emotional work.
Today, Matador Records announced that they have signed Julien Baker to their already prestigious and formidable roster. They will re-release Sprained Ankle along with a 7-inch called Funeral Pyre that features a new track of the same name, and a B-side called “Distant Solar System.” Baker has been playing “Funeral Pyre” live for some time now, and you can stream a studio version of that brand new song below.
“Funeral Pyre” has the same straightforward melody and plaintive lyrics that made Sprained Ankle so accessible, but it’s bookended with a spiraling, starlit coda that points toward what her songwriting might be expanding into. The B-side will be available the day the 7-inch is released, 3/17.
Sprained Ankle is currently out digitally, Matador will be releasing it physically ex-US and Australia on 3/17. Pre-order that record here if you fit those qualifications. It will be one of the best things you do in 2017.