Over the last month, it's very possible you've heard the name Julien Baker. Her debut album, 'Sprained Ankle' was released at the end of October on 6131 records, and in short order found itself a place as Stereogum's album of the week, and found Julien an opening gig with El VY and Wye Oak in NYC. These fortunes are most certainly not undeserved.
Since being pointed towards the album, I've listened to it in it's entirety perhaps 50 times. Perhaps more. While Pitchfork draws droll, somewhat misguided comparisons to Dashboard Confessional & Morrissey (there are undoubtedly echoes of Chris Carrabba), with each listen I was distinctly reminded of Bon Iver's 'For Emma Forever Ago'. Not so much in substance, or lyricism, but in the urgent sense of necessity in the recording itself.
In the long, winding narrative of Justin Vernon's now-famous self-imposed seclusion in the woods of Wisconsin, there was a constant reminder that the recordings that became 'For Emma' were borne out of an absolute need. A need to write different songs, to shake ghosts and memories and sorrows.
I'm acutely aware of that same haunting urgency in Baker's album, but it is approached and unraveled from a distinctly different perspective - that of a still-a-teenager exorcizing years of confusion, mistakes, questions. It is deeply marked by sometime naive, sometime wizened yearning for answers, coupled with an acceptance that those answers may never really come.
I knew I was wasting my time/
Keep myself awake at night/
Whenever I close my eyes/
I'm chasing your tail lights/
I love this album. Wholeheartedly, and unabashedly. It captures a sense that isn't quite nostalgia - more so vivid memories of being 18, sitting in my car at 3 AM, wondering where the world would take me next, feeling heartened by a sense that as I stared at the stars the Universe was so much bigger than I would ever imagine. It captures countless heartbreaks, myriad morning-afters, and an inescapable sense of self-doubt that I think haunts us all at various points in our lives.
But at the end of it all - there's a solidity, a willful resilience, a reassurance, for Baker, for me, for every listener in their own way. As Vernon howled - "what might have been lost (don't bother me", Baker sings:
"but i think there's a God and he hears either way/
I rejoice, and complain/
I never know what to say"
While neither album ever emerges truly triumphant, or satisfied - there is no victory - there is a sense of tranquility, of gratefulness. There is a sense that the questions that needed to be asked were asked, and that at least some answers might have been found.
I have listened to 'For Emma' thousands of times. I imagine I will listen to 'Sprained Ankle' nearly as many.
Julien Baker will be on tour in January, and 'Sprained Ankle' can be purchased here for a whopping $5. Watch an OurVinyl session of 'Something' below: