The alternative music scene is no stranger to women like Julien Baker; mournful lyrics and clever composition give a fresh face to an already popular trope. Legends, such as Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, and Tori Amos, have paved the way for young women to make an impact without the need for a full band or entourage of men to back them up. It seems that singer-songwriter’s such as these have faded from the focus of modern Alternative, being replaced with commercial, radio-friendly voices that invoke images of long summer days and smitten lovers. The raw and the real have been left on the backburner, and skilled musicianship is less important than a marketable look. The emergence of Julien Baker back in 2015 has led to a return to the beloved singer-songwriters of old.
Baker, a 22-year-old Memphis native, began her career as a musician playing with her high school band Forrister, formerly known as The Star Killers. She continued to play throughout her college years at Middle Tennessee State University until she was forced to leave in order to tour full time. She began writing songs for a solo debut in her freshmen year of university, leading to a self-released EP in 2014 on Bandcamp. With a strong following and wild success, Julien was able to then release the EP as the full album entitled “Sprained Ankle” in 2015. Since then, she has been featured in The New York Times, NPR, and has opened for prominent bands such as Death Cab for Cutie and The Decemberists. She recently released her second full album entitled “Turn Out the Lights,” which was well-received by critics and fans alike.
Julien Baker has all the power and presence of her alternative predecessors, but what sets her music apart is the brutal honesty and the fascinating guitar licks she employs in both of her albums. Though most of her songs are melancholy, there is something cathartic about the way she communicates her emotions without ever sounding whiny or inauthentic. Many of her songs center around the relationships she shares with people in her life, both romantic and platonic. She also honestly voices how she feels being both a lesbian woman and a Christian, with grace and wisdom far beyond her 22 years. In an interview with Pitchfork Records, Baker says that it has been, “Important to me to get rid of my really finite standard of normalcy and understand that maybe the bad and ugly things are part of me, but I don’t have to submit to them.” This sentiment is echoed in many of her lyrics, demonstrating the willingness of the artist to be both introspective and proactive in her dealings with life. Julien Baker is quite possibly the artist that the alternative scene needed to carry on and reinvent the raw musicianship that listeners know and love.