Julien Baker’s Solemn New Record Is Uplifting in a Strange Way

“Turn Out the Lights” is harrowing, yet hopeful.

Julien Baker

Turn Out the Lights

Matador

Harrowing and transfixing, Julien Baker’s second outing revisits the bleak emotional terrain of her debut, adding new dashes of musical color and glimmers of hope to take the edge off the pain. Shaded by tasteful piano, strings and occasional clarinet and sax, the solemn chamber-folk of Turn Out the Lights offers the perfect backdrop for her haunted voice, which tends toward calm resolve but can escalate to an anguished wail on short notice. Baker eloquently explores self-loathing and relationship hell with unflinching directness, exclaiming, “The harder I swim, the faster I sink,” in “Sour Breath,” and observing, “I know you were trying to help, but you’re only making it worse,” on “Shadowboxing,” while “Hurt Less” holds out a flickering promise of relief. Thanks to her rare gift for illuminating the soul’s dark places without sentimentality, this mesmerizing album ultimately feels cathartic, like hearing a great blues artist, and even a bit uplifting in a strange way.