Turn Out the Lights opens with the creak of an old door and a haunting string and piano instrumental that ushers listeners into "Appointments," which then greets us with chiming guitar lines before layers of Julien Baker's gorgeous voice fill the space with melody. The opening sequence is indicative of the sophisticated sound the Tennessee singer-songwriter has achieved on her sophomore record — a marked but natural evolution from her bare-bones debut Sprained Ankle.
Baker's lyrics remain as raw as ever, vividly detailing despair both mundane and existential. Learning to live with unfixed holes in the drywall ("Turn Out the Lights"), showing up to recovery support group meetings ("Happy to Be Here") and buckling a seatbelt ("Hurt Less") serve as banal metaphors for self-care — a concept that can seem monumentally daunting in the throes of mental illness.
Beyond day-to-day self-preservation, the record also explores questions about the bigger picture. We hear Baker, a devout Christian, wavering in faith during moments of darkness — whether it's challenging a faulty creator on "Happy to Be Here" or debating her own moral standing on "Even."
Of all the barely-there hopeful glimmers ("Appointments," "Hurt Less"), Baker's most striking breakthrough comes at the end of "Claws in Your Back." After contemplating "the easy way out," she instead comes to the conclusion that she just might be able to love her sickness. "I take it all back, I changed my mind," she pleads, before a strangled shout of "I want it to stay" echoes into the void, closing the album.
Baker is careful not to glorify life's darkest moments, and certainly doesn't on Turn Out the Lights. Rather, her candid portrayal of pain is a rare and beautiful gift. (Matador)