REVIEW: Julien Baker – ‘Funeral Pyre’ 7″
by Chad Jewett
Hushed and poignant, both sides of Julien Baker’s “Funeral Pyre” / “Distant Solar System” 7-inch continue in the spare, thoughtful mode of the Tennessee singer-songwriter’s stunning 2015 full-length, Sprained Ankle. Save for a bit of reverberating harmony and synthesizer that buoy up on both halves of the Matador-released 45, Baker’s songs remain centered around atmospheric renderings of her keening alto, a voice that has a woodwind’s ability to hum softly or stretch with arcing drama. “Distant Solar Systems” boasts a different kind of melody from Baker however, a thing of rising, waltz-timed beauty that underlines the song’s astral theme: “Distant solar systems and all the minor planets / Know nothing of our satellites and 747s / Fireworks that recreate the birth of constellations / Dying songs that laugh and shotgun powder imitations.” The added sense of direction in the song’s central melody lends its lyrics added purchase, with Baker detailing a kind of cautious faith (she and God send one another “intermittent letters”) that is striking in its quietly daring honesty, unfolding like a less baroque, more optimistic version of the religious searching at the heart of Leonard Cohens’ “Hallelujah”. And like Cohen, Baker knows how to make symphonies out of the quiet echo that surrounds a solitary microphone.