A Memphis native and MTSU senior, Julien Baker experienced a career surge last fall when she was featured by NPR, Rolling Stone and the New York Times and made a laundry list of “Best of 2015” tallies (including my own). Sprained Ankle, on 6131 Records and recorded at Richmond, Va., facility Spacebomb Studios, is sonically cohesive and taps into some of Baker’s most intimate thoughts. While the nine songs that make up her debut LP were undoubtedly crafted out of pain and loss, the outcome is an eloquent reminder that beautiful things can come from devastating experiences.
The first sound we hear on Sprained Ankle is Baker’s fuzzy finger-picking, followed by her soft, enthralling vocals. “Blacktop” is a haunting commencement, and her heavy lyrics are garnished with foreboding anecdotes:
So I wrote you love letters, and sung them in my house, all around the silence, the broken strings and amplifiers
Scream with holy noise, I hope to draw you out, if not one sings along, and prays we used to prow.
Although Baker’s voice is the focal point of Sprained Ankle, the production on both the title track and “Brittle Boned,” a song set in some sort of operating room, is more complex than any others. The entire release is aptly heart-wrenching, but Baker’s minimalistic approach on “Everybody Does” makes the song all the more melancholy. And it isn’t until the double tracked vocal kicks in on the refrain that you realize just how sonorous her voice can be.
One of the most standout tracks is “Something,” in which Baker explicitly articulates the reality of losing something, or someone, important. The song steadily builds until the bridge, when Baker yells out I thought I meant something, one of the most sobering lyrics on Sprained Ankle.
Julien Baker is currently on tour throughout February. Sprained Ankle is available through 6131 Records, iTunes, Spotify and Amazon.