Though it was released last October, Julien Baker's Sprained Ankle has become one of this year's sleeper success stories, an impressive debut that slowly works its way into your system and gives added meaning to the words "delicate" and "harrowing." Originally written as a late-night, solitary distraction while she was studying at Middle Tennessee State University, the album has turned the 20-year-old acoustic musician into a critical darling, an experience she describes as "precious, humbling, and terrifying."
Baker has been lauded not only for her formidable songwriting skills, but also for the fearlessness of her subject matter, which ranges from depression and substance abuse to a more verboten topic in contemporary indie rock: Christianity. Baker grew up a religious teenager petrified of coming out, and Sprained Ankle touches on ideas of faith and acceptance without ever turning preachy: "I rejoice and complain / I never know what to say / But I think there's a God, and he hears either way," she sings on "Rejoice." While the tracks on the record are raw and deeply personal, Baker is happy that her most private musings have found new life--and purpose--out in the world. "It's been great talking to people and realizing there are other folks who believe that there's a love present beyond what we can see," she says. "I want to be a queer artist and a female artist and a Christian artist so that people know that those things aren't mutually exclusive."
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