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Some songs impact me not because I identify with the emotions myself, but because I know that someone I care about does.

The first time I heard Julien Baker’s “Something,” off of her 2015 debut Sprained Ankle, the depiction of sleepless desolation over the end of an unhealthy relationship, one that masked personal problems now uncomfortably revealed, gently wrecked me as it reminded me of how someone I loved had been devastated the same. “I know I mean nothing, nothing to you/But I thought I mean something, something, something/But I just said nothing, said nothing, said nothing,” Baker wails with increasing remorse, and I can picture faces from my own life being behind the words.

Julien Baker is my age — born in 1995 and currently a junior in college. This is important, because by virtue of birthdates the musical reference points I looked to for sympathy growing up were beyond the scope of my own perspective. I’d feign maturity to more closely align my own experiences with those of aged rockers and individuals who looked nothing like me — I found solace, but also internalized a distance. However, as I lived through more of the narratives I formerly could only imagine, I discovered that it wasn’t my lack of ripened understanding that was at fault for my failure to connect, but rather a scarcity of songwriters reflecting my state of mind. I learned that age doesn’t equate to sincerity of expression, and that my own point of view should not be discredited just because the voices surrounding me weren’t offering the same.

That’s why Julien Baker matters. When she sings of heartbreak or her crises of faith, she echoes thoughts ingrained deep into the records of my subconscious. She wants to be ready to tackle long-term relationships, but self-identifies her own faults to use as justification for knowing they are doomed from the onset. She puts to words the insecurities my friends and I deal with on a daily basis, and she gives them a platform to feel more real for those who haven’t yet felt external sources of validation. Hearts will bruise when Baker headlines Bottom of the Hill as part of this year’s Noise Pop Festival, and in anticipation I asked her about her own musical history. She graciously shared the songs from her past that have made her cry, heal, and drift to sleep.

A song that helped you through heartbreak:

Steps by Touche Amore

“When the record Is Survived By came out, I was working through being heartbroken and feeling (predictably) alone and fearful, unsure of myself, who I wanted to be, et cetera. During that time of introspection in the wake of failed romance, 'Steps' in particular was so comforting and encouraging. The lyric, 'It's accepting love, but I'm learning to overcome and become one...I'll find my way and follow through, and maybe there, I'll meet you' is just so poignant.”

A song that fills you with childhood nostalgia:

Sugar We’re Going’ Down by Fall Out Boy

“Of all of the bands from the 2005 proto-pop-punk era that were the catalyst for my gradual immersion into the alternative/aggressive music scene, Fall Out Boy was one of my favorites. I wore out the album From Under The Cork Tree and played those songs, 'Sugar We're Goin Down' especially, nonstop when I was learning guitar, so it reminds me of sitting in my room being a junior high alt-kid or sulking around the mall listening to my iPod (not kidding).”

A song to drift off to sleep to:

Passenger Seat by Death Cab for Cutie

 “I have always been calmed by this song. The first time I heard it I was listening straight through Transatlanticism on a road-trip and I remember falling asleep in the car during [it] because it’s so soothing.”

A song that literally brought tears to your eyes:

Late Lives by Pianos Became the Teeth

“I was out on a walk the first time I heard this song, and I stopped walking and bent over with tears in my eyes in the middle of the song because I felt like I had been punched in the gut...I was NOT ready. Something about how the lyrics describe tragedy in such a flat almost casual way...caught me off guard, totally crushed me. This song is just rough. In a good way. But rough.”

A song for dancing unrestrained by yourself:

Oh Lord by Foxy Shazam

“Oddly enough, the song "Oh Lord” by Foxy Shazam always makes me want to dance. Like, obviously Justin Timberlake or something calls for busting out your best typical dance-floor moves, but whenever I hear 'Oh Lord' it winds up being more like a full-on theatrical Freddie Mercury rock n' roll strut situation, which is possibly more embarrassing.”

Julien Baker, Gracie and Rachel, Kacey Johansing, Debbie Neigher
Bottom of the Hill
February 25, 2016
8pm, $12

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