Music Review: “Distant Solar Systems,” Julien Baker

I don’t listen to Christian music anymore. Or so I thought. Until I started listening to Julien Baker. My sister introduced me to her debut record Sprained Ankle, which takes cues from early-era Elliot Smith or even, in certain moments, Paramore. She wails unto her voice breaking, plucking and pounding on her guitar in raw confessionals and dark pleas, aching from the heartbreak of death, mental illness, and loneliness. Oh, and her doubts about her Presbyterian faith.

I stumbled upon Baker’s profession of faith in the middle of the album, on the track “Rejoice,” stunned by the honesty of her tone. No agenda here, just a girl tackling the daunting concept of prayer, of what it means to make contact with the God of her allegiance. No call to action for righteous living, just questions. Just presence. My weary heart found comfort in her confessions.

Baker’s most recent single, “Distant Solar Systems,” offers a glimpse of these same paradoxes, but from a little farther off, to soothing effect. The imagery gently swirls with space travel and stars and inquiries of purpose, floating on softly plucked guitar and layered harmonies. The questions remain, but she’s making peace with them, learning to grow older with them. How are we expected to make sense of God? Baker posits that perhaps we’re not.

And that’s pretty much where I’m at. I don’t have answers, just questions, “but I think there’s a God and he hears either way.” It’s a relief to bask in the comfort of Julien’s songs, most recently “Distant Solar Systems,” and feel small, but heard.

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