Julien Baker

I get a certain joy out of a great sad song. Whether that’s a byproduct of being introduced to Radiohead at an early age or some sort of emotionally-scarring family issue that I’ve suppressed from my childhood, I can’t say for sure, but it’s most likely the former. Either way, Julien Baker’s recent turn on NPR Music’s ongoing Tiny Desk Concert series is right up my sad alley of sad sadness.

I’ve been a big fan of the Tenessee musician since I discovered her debut album Sprained Ankle late last year. The nine emotionally-raw tracks on that release hit me square in the feels, a collection of heartbreakingly beautiful songs that quickly became some of my favorites of 2015. It’s a stunning collection, and the magic melancholy of her music translates wonderfully to the Tiny Desk Concert’s version of a stage.

Right from the start, the first few pings of her song “Sprained Ankle” is enough to send shivers down your spine. That precious picking pattern sets the stage wonderfully for a three-song set where Baker shows just how beautiful simplicity can be. These songs don’t require extensive effects outside a little looping and a lot of raw emotion. By the time Baker starts making small talk with “Isn’t this weather nice, are you okay” on the aforementioned “Sprained Ankle,” it’s hard not to be sucked in by how open and intimate her lyrics are. In short, it’s a performance that will hit you right in the so-called feels.

In truth, the simplicity of the Tiny Desk Concert set-up is just about perfect for Baker. Her music is a very intimate experience, so seeing her spill her guts in a solo performance while a bunch of NPR staffers watch her off-screen makes sense. There’s a lonesome quality to her songs that makes listening feel almost voyeuristic, as if you’re witnessing some extremely private. Here, Baker opens herself up to the unseen audience, earnestly inviting them into her heart and mind through a trio of gorgeously-plucked, reverberating tracks.

Check out Julien Baker’s Tiny Desk Concert For Yourself

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Now Hear This is a regularly irregular column in which Alex Bieler writes about music – both new and old – that he thinks you should introduce to your ears. If you’ve got a musical suggestion that you think he should highlight, shoot him an email at alex.m.bieler@gmail.com or tweet at him at @Catch20Q.


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