The first sound of Julien Baker’s sophomore LP Turn Out The Lights is the creak of a door, as if it’s an invitation into her world. As the door slams, footsteps follow. A body sits on a rickety bench, then slams on a low minor key on the piano, a musical scream that echoes in a wide room. “Over” begins with rolling piano notes, before strings are introduced and the song takes on the body of an emotional soundtrack to an unseen drama, one that exists only within the head of the composer. As the piano fades out, it is replaced with the familiar looped dissonance of Baker’s electric guitar of the album’s lead single “Appointments.”
Thus begins Turn Out The Lights, a gorgeous assembly of eleven heart-wrenching tracks that observe the contradictory aspects of life and begin to reconcile with the fact that they might be able to coexist. This might sound like a colossal task for an artist to take on — especially for someone who is only 22 — but Baker handles it with grace and candor, perfectly balancing personal sentiment with stories of those that surround her.
Chatting with me from a cell phone while walking down the street in Washington, D.C. after recording her second Tiny Desk session for NPR, Baker gets interrupted mid-sentence by a bus roaring past. She yelps in apology for the volume, but quickly regains her train of thought, explaining the differences of her live set-up as she begins to transition into supporting Turn Out The Lights, her first effort for Matador Records. Baker’s newer songs utilize more instruments in addition to the sparse, dissonant electric guitar and yearning vocals that earned 2015’s Sprained Ankle massive critical acclaim, with strings, horns, and piano accentuating the sonic landscapes and filling out the sound.