Introducing Julien Baker, Sad Songwriter Extraordinaire


If you listen to any music today at all, let it be the Tiny Desk Concert performance by Julien Baker:

Thanks to the data-mining phenomenon that is Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist, I discovered Baker’s soulful, confessional sound earlier this fall and was immediately stunned by her airy yet powerful vocals and ambient guitar. Since then, I haven’t been able to stop listening.

The singer-songwriter is originally from Memphis, Tennessee. After parting from her high school rock band Forrister to study at Middle Tennessee University, she began writing demos of her own. These eventually became her debut album.

Baker released her first solo album, Sprained Ankle, in 2015. The nine-track album can only be described as heart wrenching, or perhaps as the epitome of a sad record. Either way, Baker takes feelings of despair and manifests them into a collection of songs that is ultimately healing. Despite her vulnerability in dealing with issues like substance abuse and shifting relationships, the listener leaves the album with a sense of hope. When Baker sings, it sounds like a breakthrough, as if the listener witnesses her find hope through musical catharsis.

I was shocked to learn that Baker is only 20. The self-awareness of Sprained Ankle far surpasses any teenage angst I’ve ever witnessed. Her music is characterized by a carefully controlled energy that drives a sound far more mature than her age would assume. Baker's music has been compared to that of fellow Tennesseean Torres, singer-songwriter Natalie Prass's delicate rock, and Bon Iver (specifically the For Emma, Forever Ago era). Each of these musicians balances insightful lyrics and deceptively complex instrumentation that results in an inventive, unique musical space.

Currently, Baker is completing a tour of the United States; at its conclusion, she will begin an Australian tour. I look forward to a time when I can see Baker live; if her Tiny Desk Performance is any indication, the impact of her songs gives her great skill at commanding a stage.

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