Julien Baker’s sophomore album, Turn Out the Lights, begins when Baker walks into a creaky old room, opens a creaky piano and starts to play a sparse tune. Forty minutes later, the Memphis-based 22-year-old belts out the last word of her last song—the word “stay”—with such power it leaves you shivering, then closes the piano lid with as little bravado as when she opened it.
It’s an album that quietly but powerfully announces the arrival of a new indie singer-songwriter powerhouse of the likes we haven’t heard, maybe even in a few decades. Coming after her 2015 self-released nine-track solo album, Sprained Ankle, this new effort continues Baker’s special brand of what we’ll call emo folk, which sounds terrible but is totally the opposite. Baker, who identifies as queer and Christian, writes simple songs about big questions: why she’s here, who she is and how she can feel better. Confronting issues like substance abuse, self-hatred and depression, she often seems to be singing directly to God, in stripped down arrangements that are often only her and her guitar or piano in an empty room. You should go see her Wednesday, so you can hear her in an intimate venue so early in her career. In a few years, you’ll be able to say: I saw Julien Baker back when she played the Top Hat!
Julien Baker plays the Top Hat Wed., Dec. 6, at 7 PM. $15.