Turn Out the Lights is artist Julien Baker’s sophomore album, and the first she has recorded after signing with Matador Records earlier in 2017. In this record, Baker takes a turn from her first album, Sprained Ankle, where she explored issues in her life such as depression and substance abuse, to focus on how different parts of her identity clash such as being Christian and being someone who struggles with mental illness and the crises of faith that come from these different experiences.
The entire album is a progressive narrative of Baker wrestling with these topics. The albumbegins with an instrumental track that seems to transport the listener from Baker’s first album into her second. The rest of the tracks cover the topics stated earlier while following this progression of staying within faith, wanting to escape and then realizing she truly wants to stay. This is shown through different lyrics sung throughout such as “I’m staying in tonight,” the first lyrics sung on the album. This part of the story climaxes in “Televangelists” where she criticizes how Christianity can amputate or even deafen one to/from the world by being so inwardly focused on personal faith. This criticism culminates with the final lyrics of the album: “Cause I take it all back, I change my mind, I wanted to stay” after Baker realizes she has “been living with demons [she’s] mistaken for saints.” It is a metaphor for mental illnesses she and other friends have struggled with, but it also represents how this faith is something that she can rely on and is not something she completely understands yet.
Along with her song focus developing, Baker’s style has really come into its own. Her sound has developed into something that falls between Bon Iver’s smooth vocals combined with Manchester Orchestra’s indie rock style and lead singer Andy Hull’s rougher, yet still melodic voice. The strength found in her style has allowed her to fully develop how she wants to use her style to emphasize the message that she is sending through her music.
Compared to Sprained Ankle, which was driven by soft electric guitar riffs and some acoustic guitar tracks, Turn Out the Lights has a far more diverse set of instruments with emphasis on piano, orchestral strings and acoustic guitar. The increased instrumental variety along with some male harmony on a few tracks adds depth to the songs that Baker’s first record lacked. In all, this album shows the development Baker has made musically. It gets at a different level of Baker’s person, and that, combined with the resources of being associated with a label, have allowed her to produce these phenomenal songs.