Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (Album Review)

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In 2015 the seemingly unknown Julien Baker (at least in the UK) released the understated album Sprained Ankle on 6131 Records. It is a testament to her ever growing fanbase and the depth of the album that two years on it is being reissued, hopefully to an even wider audience, by her new label Matador Records to coincide with a European tour.

For those who haven’t managed to catch the wave of acclaim that Julien has received through Sprained Ankle you’re in for a treat. Here we have a release that belies Bakers young age, showing a depth of emotion, empathy and vulnerability that often takes artists several releases to display. Playing somewhere between Keaton Henson and SOAK, songs like ‘Blacktop’, ‘Sprained Ankle’, ‘Brittle Boned’ and ‘Good News’ are low key and reserved with Baker’s hushed vocals; emotionally affecting and heart rendering over spacial, reverbed guitar playing. ‘Good News’ itself is the standout track with the most glorious, understated guitar. It forever sounds like it’s on the cusp of breaking into distorted crescendo, yet it never quite arrives. It’s a beautifully haunting moment.

While final song, ‘Go Home’ shows Baker at her most affecting as she sings with her gorgeously haunting voice, “I haven’t been taking my meds so lock all the cabinets and send me to bed”, over a sparse piano melody ebbing towards the end of the record. Perhaps it’s a low key way to end the album but it sums up Baker’s qualities perfectly and leaves you as the listener feeling empty the moment the music ceases and silence fills your ears.

However, it’s not all perfect here with a small handful of songs like ‘Everybody Does’ and ‘Rejoice’ her vulnerability is turned on its head. With this new found strength Baker becomes lost in a sea of singer-songwriters where everyone sounds similar and detracts slightly from the album as a whole emotionally downbeat experience. Luckily though these moments are rare and fleeting, leaving Julien Baker as not one to watch out for in the future, but essentially one to pay complete attention to right now. If Baker can maintain her honesty and integrity whilst developing musically as an artist, there is absolutely nothing that can stop her from becoming a household name.

The re-release of Sprained Ankle is due on March 17th via Matador Records. She will also be releasing new 7″, Funeral Pyre on the same day. You can pre-order, here.