"Know my name and all my hideous mistakes," Julien Baker sings in a climactic moment on her debut album Sprained Ankle. In a little over a half hour, the 20-year-old Tennessean details her struggles with addiction, depression, and relationships, describing with unflinching honesty everything from losing consciousness in a hospital bed to feeling intensely powerless in the final moments of a breakup.
The album begins with a minimal acoustic guitar line and Baker singing in hushed tones. But by the time it reaches the aforementioned climax, she's nearly shouting; her voice has progressed from plaintive to plaintively triumphant. This is what makes Sprained Ankle so compelling. Baker finds power in her vulnerability, and she can transform moments of deep despair into beautiful yet crushing crescendos.
Given the content of her music, it's no surprise that Baker is drawn to songs that have a strong emotional pull. "I tried to pick songs that hit really hard sonically as well as lyrically or evoke a particularly strong response," Baker told The Week. Below, six songs that get her hyped up.
1. Ryan Adams, "Shakedown on 9th Street"
"I love to listen to this song when I'm driving on the highway. It's just a tune that makes you want to put on some sunglasses and roll around town like a greaser. It has this gritty rockabilly guitar sound that perfectly fits the rock-and-roll vibe; a great pick for when I'm on my way to a show or into the city."
2. Circa Survive, "Get Out"
"I also listen to this song on the way to shows a lot, because I often warm up by singing Circa Survive. [Vocalist] Anthony Green's vocal range and control is amazing, and since I started listening to them years ago, he's been one of my favorite vocalists — not to mention that Circa Survive is one of my favorite bands and has influenced me a lot in my guitar style and tone, as well as my songwriting. 'Get Out' has just such an aggressive, high-energy feel that puts me in a good place before a performance, and helps stretch my voice, too."
3. Bruce Springsteen, "Badlands"
"This is absolutely a staple of classic feel-good rock songs. I love all of Springsteen's stuff and there are a number of hits I can jam out to, (of course there's the entire Born to Run record) but something about this particular song of his really captures that Americana ethos that's so invigorating. Lyrically it's my favorite; it's triumphant and unconventionally poetic in all the right ways. It is one of those songs that belongs on a soundtrack to a movie everyone can relate to."
4. Balance and Composure, "Reflection"
"Whenever this song comes on, I will literally start it over if someone is talking over the first 30 seconds. The first time I heard the drop where the drums come in it felt like I was getting punched in the stomach — in a good way, of course. It's just such a powerful riff, and the production gives the instrumentation this incredibly heavy wall-of-sound quality. This record has been out for awhile but it still gets to me every time I listen to it. I can never get through the half-time break without playing air-drums."
5. Underoath, "In Regards To Myself"
"This is probably the most personally important of all the songs I get 'hype' to; there are plenty of aggressive/hardcore bands' songs that I enjoy because they are heavy or energetic, but this one goes beyond just being 'heavy' for me. Underoath has long been one of my favorites, and I used to go see them live all the time at the skate park or wherever, and they would open with this song. Every time I hear the sound clip of the film reel I remember standing in the crowd, waiting to hear the dissonant guitars come in and freaking out to the utter chaos of the intro, and the song still carries that intense energy for me. I also love the hook; since I was in junior high, it's still never gotten old to hear someone scream, 'It's all worth reaching for the hand to pull you out.'"
6. Manchester Orchestra, "The River"
"There is something indescribably sublime about this song. The bare simplicity of the structure is what makes it so powerful. It's only a few chords, part of the chorus is just loud, whole notes, but the rawness of the song is so emotive. When the harmonies are added on the final chorus it feels like a wave crashing over my ears. It never fails to give me chills. It's also really nostalgic because local bands, including my own, used to cover this at house shows when I was growing up and people would pile on to the mic and just start screaming along with the 'Oh My God...' lyric. So now, no matter where I hear it, it stirs up the same passionate emotion that I felt listening to it back then or singing at those shows."
Sprained Ankle is out now on 6131 Records.
(This interview was condensed and edited by Samantha Rollins.)
Watch the video for Julien Baker's "Sprained Ankle" below:
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