Sprained Ankle, Ltd Ed Indie Exclusive Pressing of 1,500 copies, 180G Baby Blue Vinyl
If Julien Baker wasn't cracking something close to a smile on the cover of Sprained Ankle, I wouldn't be certain that it was meant for public consumption. Much of the album was written in isolation—after Baker left Memphis for Middle Tennessee State University, she worked on these songs in a soundproof booth within the campus music building. It was recorded in Richmond's Spacebomb Studios, a destination du jour that birthed lusciously orchestrated countrypolitan records from Matthew E. White and Natalie Prass this year, but these one-mic and one-take songs could have easily been tracked in an MTSU bathroom. Listening to it can occasionally feel like a violation of her privacy.
This voyeuristic appeal plays a minor role in distinguishing Sprained Ankle, though. More important is how Baker operates in existential ultimatums—life or death, hope or despair, oblivion or epiphany. It cuts through the bullshit rather than piling onto it, and its clarity and honesty has instantly helped Baker reach across aisles. She recently opened for Touché Amoré, a post-hardcore band of blazing intensity and extreme devotees that was previously on 6131 Recordsand more indicative of the music on Baker's label. By the end of November, she'll be joining the tasteful-indie double bill of EL VYand Wye Oak.
Sprained Ankle is a solo, singer-songwriter album, but very little of it would be considered "folky." She professes David Bazan, mewithoutYou's Aaron Weiss, and Ben Gibbard as idols, but her guitar playing bears more of their influence than their vocals. She's a minimalist, playing bassy clusters of melodic thirds, flicking silvery harmonics, palm-muting chords. It's gorgeously recorded and yet, there's still the suggestion that these might've been demos—the scant overdubs of drums or harmonized vocals just drive home how lonely Baker is, that she may have meant these to eventually be full-band arrangements one day. -Pitchfork