Julien Baker's "Sprained Ankle" is painfully honest and wholesomely atmospheric
Julien Baker’s sophomore release originated from an organic place, a place in which somebody told Julien she had a unique, intangible, quality that was not yet fully realised. In my research for this piece, I poured through the multitude of interviews online, and in the interviews that I have watched, one thing remains clear. Baker seems to be in complete disbelief that anyone would want to consume anything she has produced, garnishing everyone who does with complete awe. Baker may have to start acclimating, as it is becoming overwhelmingly evident that her insecurities are mostly unfounded.
Painfully honest and wholesomely atmospheric, Sprained Ankle ebbs and flows like a teenage diatribe, genuinely emotional, fundamentally lonely and painfully raw. At her most vulnerable, Julien feels like a friend you care for dearly, spilling her insecurities out to you, while you can only sit back and listen, vastly ill-equipped to be dealing with the anecdotes being thrown at you. Substance abuse is a constant theme throughout Sprained Ankle, although it doesn’t seem to be of the debilitating nature, more-so one of necessity, one to get you through the tough times, times that Baker has clearly needed to deal with. However, while these themes are anecdotally dealt with, there seems to be somewhat of a mature reflection that flows throughout these delicate moments.
Baker’s songs play out like that of a lonely, starved artist, who brought the skeletons of song structure to band practice, to the pursed lips of her fellow band mates. With that being said, a further development of Baker’s canticles would only serve to tarnish simplicity, as the most jarring moments of Sprained Ankle resides in the disparity between chords. Bright, glassy reverb elevates tracks such as “Something” and “Sprained Ankle” to ethereal levels, while the piano-lead harmonies of “Go Home”, not the mention the visceral cries at the end of the track, offer a welcome, crushing, juxtaposition.
The fundamentally exquisite musings of Julien were born out of the vast proximity between herself and her loved ones, using the nuances of songwriting to help her feel closer to home, uploading her songs to media distribution websites such as Bandcamp. I can only assume that the juxtaposition in propinquity drove inherently melancholic songs to be that much sadder, especially considering the isolation these one-take-tracks were recorded in.
When refuting my infatuation for Baker’s music, my go-to explanation is as such; ultimately, we are all Julien Baker. We’ve all found ourselves in the unfamiliar abodes of fleeting lovers, battling feelings of inadequacies at 3am, we’ve all found ourselves on an alcohol-fuelled journey home feeling sorry for ourselves, and we’ve all had some level of existential crisis, primarily fuelled by self-pity. Fortunately, Julien Baker has the common decency to put melody to the melodrama and substantiate emotional trauma. End of the day, we’re all marathon runners that have had to overcome a couple of sprained ankles.