Spectator Music presents: the album that changed my life — Sprained Ankle

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, October 25th, 2017 at 5:04 PM
Spectator Music presents: the album that changed my life — Sprained Ankle  by Christopher LaFuria

The greatest singer-songwriter in the United States is a 22-year-old shoegazing folk artist from the heart of the Bible belt.

Hyperaware of  — albeit torn by — the dichotomies that exist from her roots in Memphis, Tennessee, Julien Baker reveals open wounds and personal triumphs in a 9-song LP titled “Sprained Ankle,” which was released in 2015. Growing up as a gay teenage punk in the South, Baker showed no remorse for sporting bright pink mohawks in high school while her adolescent counterparts embraced country-western music and flannels shirts.

However, through songs like “Everybody Does,” a two-and-a-half-minute ode to personal devil’s advocacy, Baker embraces her proud Christian heritage and her support for LGBTQIA youth with lyrics such as, “I know myself better than anybody else/But you’re gonna run when you find out who I am.”

During my formative music years as an angsty (for absolutely no reason) teenager, I submerged my musical playlist in the likes of Brand New, Taking Back Sunday, Jimmy Eat World and Alkaline Trio. As I entered college in 2004, I discovered more mature singing and songwriting from current favorites Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Paul Simon and Conor Oberst. So, to select a life-changing album from any of the above would feel too cop-outish from a self-proclaimed music geek.

Enter Julien Baker, whose attitude and musicianship are so appropriate for the transition to millennial culture in American society that she should be required listening for first-year seminar courses. She bounces back and forth between depression and victory, rebelliousness to Christianity, and soft whispering ballads to guitar wailing and vocal forte.

And the lyrics.

“Sweat on a microphone, breaking my voice/Whenever I’m alone with you, can’t talk but/Isn’t this weather nice? Are you okay? Should I go somewhere else and hide my face?”

When I first heard these lines ooze from the conflicted singer’s mouth like sour honey, I immediately thought she was reaching out to a scorned lover. However, after several (hundred) plays, these lines transformed into an intimate prayer with God about her lifestyle and her inner turmoil of being a gay woman in the Christian faith.

Her songs and message reflect our current cultural trends that we face on college campuses and beyond — youthfulness in a time of privileged adult power; diversity during a time of political divisiveness; depression during a time of mental health stigmas; and breaking locational stereotypes that have plagued Baker into her early 20s.

“I hope we can dismantle the idea that the entire South is sitting on our porches spitting tobacco and hating gay people,” Baker said during a 2016 interview with Pitchfork.

Or better yet, as she sings in the album’s opening track, “Blacktop”: “So I wrote you love letters/And sung them in my house/And all around the South/The broken strings and amplifiers scream with holy noise.”

I’m excited for Julien Baker’s future. Opening for acts such as Oberst, Death Cab for Cutie, Belle & Sebastian and El Vy (super-group featuring members of The National and Ramona Falls), she is already establishing her musical street cred. And with a new album, titled “Turn Out the Lights,” scheduled for Oct. 27, we will see how Baker follows up one of my life-changing albums.

Christopher LaFuria is the manager of communications for Edinboro University.

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