We never really got a chance to sing the praises of Julien Baker with her debut, Sprained Ankle, last year (and it turned into one of the best albums of the year) so we’re going to celebrate the release of her new live EP. It’s a fairly short EP at four tracks and fifteen minutes, but for anyone new to Baker, this will be an excellent method of discovery. It takes four of the strongest songs from the album – ‘Sprained Ankle’, ‘Rejoice’, ‘Something’ and ‘Go Home’ and recreates them faithfully, mostly sticking to the simple electric guitar songs that Baker often layers with a loop pedal, with even ‘Rejoice’ getting the electric treatment instead of its original acoustic form. The lack of ‘Everybody Does’ isn’t entirely surprising; it’s best suited to quiet acoustic music, but instead we get the religious questioning of ‘Rejoice’ which has even better vocals than the album version and includes all the little quirky mistakes that a live recording should.
But a song like ‘Something’ is perfectly played all the way through with its perfect twinkling guitar line. The difference between the vocals on ‘Something’ compared to the album is minimal, but it is noticeable on this song and ‘Sprained Ankle’ that her vocals have a live crackle and shake to them, which sometimes works even better than the originals. She veers off on the last half of ‘Sprained Ankle’, letting her voice wander over the ghostly guitar. The climax of ‘Something’ in Baker’s vocals is comparable to her performance of ‘Everybody Does’ in that her voice rises and she sings ‘I just said nothing / I can’t think of anyone else’. ‘Go Home’ changes up the style for Baker and a piano and while the song doesn’t quite reach the heights of ‘Something’, lines like ‘There’s more whisky than blood in my veins’ and ‘I haven’t been taking my meds / lock all the cabinets send me to bed’ are still some of the most powerful and sad lyrics Baker has written yet. Themes of drug and alcohol abuse are plainly abundant in Baker’s lyrics and she never minces her words about it, which makes it even worse than any metaphor that a rock band might sing about it. It’s intense and utterly sad, but it comes across as catharsis for Baker.
One of the best records of last year makes itself even rawer live, to use an overly-used word. But that’s often what it is – very raw, both in the sense of the music, which strips Baker’s other band Forrister down to just a guitar or piano, and in the sense that Baker is exposing herself fully to the listener. This isn’t some fey singer-songwriter singing about the autumn leaves, it’s about real people and real (often ugly) problems.
Funnel Recommends: Sprained Ankle / Something / Go Home