Julien Baker’s cathartic ‘Sprained Ankle’

Matthew Munhall in the (Notre Dame and St. Mary's College) Observer:

ScreenHunter_1564 Dec. 16 18.41“Sad bastard music” is how Julien Baker has taken to referring to her songwriting, at least somewhat jokingly, in recent interviews. It’s an apt description of the 20-year-old singer-songwriter’s stunning debut, “Sprained Ankle,” an album about coping with sadness in its various permutations. Baker’s songs — about addiction, loneliness, heartbreak, mortality — are emotionally arresting; they grab you by the neck and force you to feel something.

Baker has been writing songs since junior high and became immersed in the Memphis music scene in high school with her band, Forrister. When she went off to school at Middle Tennessee State University, though, she found herself missing her bandmates and began writing songs alone in the practice room of her school’s music building. The result of those late-night songwriting sessions is “Sprained Ankle,” an album that falls in the lineage of Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago,” Waxahatchee’s “American Weekend” and Torres’ self-titled LP — confessional, emotionally direct debuts that emerged from an artist in solitude.

Most of the album is just Baker’s voice, which oscillates between quiet restraint and a powerful wail depending on what the song calls for, and her electric guitar, drenched in reverb and delay. With these two instruments, she constructs a self-contained universe, expansive in sound even as its subject matter is inward-looking.

More here. [Thanks to Yohan John.]