Screaming to Be Heard: Julien Baker's Turn Out the Lights

Photo by Nolan Knight

By Erik Thompson

Julien Baker is clearly not afraid to get dark.

Throughout her brilliant catalog — and especially on its second entry, 2017’s Turn Out the Lights — Baker openly explores life’s painful, fragile moments that leave us broken, lost and looking for answers. But she also examines the lasting connections that we forge with our friends and our family that keep us from feeling totally adrift and alone. Baker poetically captures the inner struggle of discovering who we are after we’re forced to change who we’ve been, and shares therapeutic stories of healing and renewal while overcoming trauma, isolation and heartbreak.

There is a personal, confessional quality to Baker’s songs, as if she is sharing excerpts from her personal diary or well-worn poetry journal with her fans, entrusting them to keep her secrets and hold them close to their hearts. Listening to her music is a sacred aural experience, soothing the souls of both the artist and the listener as they experience that shared mutual connection.

Turn Out the Lights was originally going to be titled Shadowboxing, after one of the most devastating songs on an album full of heartbreak. Given the raw, emotional potency of that tune’s lyrics, it’s easy to see why it encapsulates the themes of inner turmoil and desperate search for understanding that are threaded throughout the rest of the LP. “When you watch me throwing punches at the devil / It just looks like I’m fighting with me,” she sings on track four. “But there’s a comfort in failure / Singing too loud in church / Screaming my fears into speakers / ’Til I collapse or I burst / Whichever comes first.”

Even with all the anguish and grief that permeates Baker’s work, there is also a profound sense of hope and rebirth at the core of her compositions. “Sometimes I’m too hasty to criticize [my songs] because they do have this provision of hope at the root of all of them,” Baker shared with us. “Turn Out the Lights is not a record that is nihilistic in its pain, or pessimistic in its pain. It’s very much about seeking redemption and seeking a way to make meaning out of the apparent meaninglessness of suffering in life.”

Across her three records, Baker celebrates the brave individual’s act of survival, against all odds. She boldly confronts the agony of addiction and the sinister grip of mental illness that holds you down and continuously lurks in the corners of your mind. Her songs are defiant odes to the will of the human spirit and a testament to the potent power of music to help see your way through the gloom. In a darkened room when the noise of the world fades away and the walls turn black, you can discover a courageous part of yourself that you never knew existed. Turning that learning experience into art brazenly reclaims what you lost of yourself along the way, and helps make some sense of the ominous shadows we all know are there waiting for us whenever the lights go out again.

Bandbox is excited to exclusively release Turn Out the Lights on pink & white galaxy vinyl! The LP comes with a 16-page Julien Baker zine, featuring an interview with Julien, an autobiographical walk through her discography, rare photos and more.