Julien Baker’s ‘Funeral Pyre’ Fires Upon Toxic Relationships
Just in case you needed further proof of the almighty power of human sorrow and acoustic-enabled catharsis, guitarist, songwriter and producer Julien Baker — otherwise known as folk's very own Saint Sebastian — has just inked a deal with the almighty Matador Records. The 21-year-old Tennessee college student's signing is more than just a contract — it's a symbolic seat at the indie rock pantheon, somewhere along the gilded table where Pavement, Cat Power and Interpol have all sat (or currently sit). Considering the runaway commercial and critical success of her debut album, 2015's Sprained Ankle, Baker's ascension hardly comes as a shocker; still, it's a hell of a leap from three years ago, when she began writing and recording in between classes. Time flies!
Baker's inaugural recordings for her new label home are comprised of material both old and new: a reissue of Sprained Ankle (which has been difficult to find outside of the U.S. and Australia), as well as a 7" containing "Funeral Pyre" (which Baker's been road-testing for some time now) b/w "Distant Solar System," a previously unheard cut dating back to 2015's stellar breakthrough LP. Listen below.
Speaking with NPR, Baker framed "Funeral Pyre" as a reflection on toxic relationships: specifically, the sacrifices accompanied with the abuser's wholly justified — but nonetheless painful — decision to leave. This is self-love at its rawest and most primal:
Obviously, drinking gasoline incurs bodily harm on you, but also, being an accessory to that kind of behavior and having to decide — it incurs harm upon you, too. And then, are you responsible for permitting that? If you stay, are you responsible for permitting it? And if you leave, are you responsible for not intervening? If you intervene, are you out of your bounds? Everything about the song is figuring out how you should act in your level of responsibility for your own health and to others in the dynamic of a relationship, which is a difficult lesson to learn.
I feel like I would have put myself into an unfavorable or unhealthy position for this person and maybe recognizing from an outside perspective that that destructivism is a more healthy thing to do than to stay in it for the sort of romantic, admirable belief that subjecting yourself to this kind of sacrificial, fatuous love would be more of the right thing to do.
Julien Baker's “Funeral Pyre” b/w “Distant Solar System” single arrives March 17 (Saint Patrick's Day!) via Matador. Pre-order it here.