Julien Baker - Sprained Ankle (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Julien Baker

Sprained Ankle (2015)

6131 Records

6131 Records has been home to many punk bands. Joyce Manor, Touché Amoré and Rotting Out have all called the label home. However, its most recent output is Sprained Ankle, a beautifully simple debut from a twenty-year-old singer-songwriter.

The pairing of 6131 and Julien Baker is not surprising though. While her music may deviate from the label norm, it is clear Baker and many of 6131’s other bands grew up on the same emotionally charged rock. Emo is “cool” again but it would be unfair to classify this as an emo record. “I wish I could write songs about anything other than death” or “there’s more whiskey than blood in my veins” resonates in any genre.

For Baker, solo really means solo. Her presence doesn’t need any sort of heavy production with her voice and plucked acoustic guitar doing most of the work. "Raw" is an overused word that applies nonetheless. Her ability to vomit honesty at such a controlled pace leaves the listener feeling as though maybe this wasn’t meant for them to hear.

Those personal experiences pull from Baker’s past. From a car accident (“Blacktop”) to drug usage (“Good News”), the young songwriter does not hold back. When she echoes “nothing” near the end of “Something,” your heart breaks with hers. “Blacktop” is an intimate and detailed description of what must have been a horrendous car wreck in more ways than one. Yes, her car wrapped around a street lamp is painful. But begging someone to come visit during the traumatic process is a torture of its own. Baker’s skin is often referenced. Whether she’s peeling it back, tattooing it or piercing it, her skin is constricting and she’s constantly trying to get out of it. 

Baker is young and her troubles weigh heavily on her. She spends Sprained Ankle looking for a positive spin going forward. If she can find it, that is. A song like “Rejoice” references her sleeping “on the bench in the park on [her] birthday,” “choking smoke,” and “all of [her] hideous mistakes” but still ends with a confident, repeated, “I rejoice.” 

This is a dark album—one where sadness and hope fight for the spotlight. Even at only twenty, Baker’s been through some shit. She not complaining but needs to share her stories for her own piece of mind. Sprained Ankle accomplishes this and more, earning a spot as one of the best debuts of 2015.