Julien Baker’s “Sprained Ankle” an Intimate Pleasure

28 Jan

KZSU is a few months behind on getting Julien Baker’s Sprained Ankle added to our fresh list. But this is an album by a newcomer who’s too good and too important to overlook.

Baker wrote and recorded Sprained Ankle, her first solo album, at the age of 19 after leaving a Memphis band named Forrister when she went away to college at Middle Tennessee State University.

I’ve talked in the past about albums that are intimate and personal. None are more soul-baring than Baker’s. As the Pitchfork reviewer wrote, If Baker “wasn’t cracking something close to a smile on the cover of Sprained Ankle, I wouldn’t be certain that it was meant for public consumption.” It almost feels like a violation of her personal space to listen to some of these songs.

On the title track, Baker sings “Wish I could write songs about anything other than death.” She apparently has seen a lot of life with its heartache and bittersweet moments in her few years, so she feels like she’s qualified to contemplate the end and the darkness beyond. And Sprained Ankle seems to affirm that she is.

She recorded the album at Spacebomb Studios in Richmond, Virginia — which has launched the careers of highly regarded artists such as Natalie Prass. So Baker is someone you might want to get to know. It certainly sounds like she has a lot of songs and stories in her to tell in the coming years.

The title track of Sprained Ankle is exquisite musically. Slow and hesitant, fragile and intricate, the song features a chiming guitar repeating the same two notes as Baker examines her life with the observation, “Sprinter learning to wait/Marathon runner…my ankles are sprained.”

The next song is “Brittle Boned,” a haunting recollection of a hospital stay. Baker’s guitar is almost hypnotizing as her vocals quaver with the telling of the story about “hurting herself.”

“Everybody Does” is more uplifting, featuring a nice strummed guitar, with Baker’s voice rising to its higher registers.

The sixth track, “Something” is another sad tale about a breakup and not being able to deal directly with it. Baker sings, “Should’ve said something…something…something/Couldn’t find something to say/So, I just said nothing…nothing…nothing/Sat and watched you drive away.” The hurt she feels is visceral, and vivid.

It’s appropriate that the album ends with “Go Home,” because it seems like home is something Baker has been yearning for her entire life. The beautiful piano ballad again showcases Baker’s ability to deliver so much raw emotion in a song.

And remember, she had just turned 20 when the album was released this past fall. We have so much more to hear from her.



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