Every few months or so, a music video comes along and manages to steal breath, freeze blood, and make time stand still. In those moments, careers on both sides of the lens can get pushed forward with a momentum that borderlines shocking and– importantly– keeps the medium pushing forward instead of succumbing to a rote stagnancy. Julien Baker’s “Sprained Ankle” is one of those videos.
Even on its own, the title track of Baker’s astounding Sprained Ankle is gripping. A haunted, downcast meditation on self-worth and perseverance, “Sprained Ankle” could have accompanied a strong photograph and it would have made a mark. Director Sabyn Mayfield and cinematographer David Newbert, thankfully, had a different vision in mind. While “Sprained Ankle” does start on a near-frozen one shot of a dejected Baker staring at the floor, it slowly unfurls into something that feels transcendent.
As the song’s guitar harmonics ring out, the camera pulls back to reveal an isolated Baker in the damaged expanse of a demolished classroom. As Baker makes her way through an emotionally crippling set of lyrics, the camera slowly surveys the surroundings without ever abandoning Baker is the focal point; she’s at the heart of the damage. As the lyrics draw to a close, the camera approaches Baker before finally pushing past her shoulder as the song descends into a wordless, layered chorus.
Finally, in that wordless section, the camera peers upward, focusing on the ceiling insulation in between the structural gaps. As the camera explores that aspect of the gradual destruction, there’s a palpable sense of sadness that accompanies the moment, driving home the thematic point of inevitable decay with an astonishing amount of grace. Presented as a tracking shot, “Sprained Ankle” concludes by sweeping from the roof back down to tarnished earth, pulling back to reveal Baker’s vanished entirely to inject the clip with a feeling of an almost sorrowful abandonment.
Ultimately, “Sprained Ankle” comes across as deeply human. It’s a tacit statement about the cyclical nature of loss and an unforgettable examination of self-awareness. It’s an unforgettable moment from an artist who deserves a lot more discussion going forward. Don’t let this one fade into the recesses of the forgotten anytime soon.
Watch “Sprained Ankle” below and pre-order the record from 6131 here. Below the embed, explore an extensive collection of some of the past few weeks’ best videos.
Farao – Warriors
R. Ring – Loud Underneath
Violent Mae – In the Sun
The Spirit of the Beehive – You Are Arrived (But You’ve Been Cheated)
Hey Lover – I’ve Got A Car
Skaters – Mental Case
Big Eyes – Local Celebrity
The Bandicoots – Overnight Innovator
Acid Fast – Momma Grey
Fog Lake – Shanty Town
Split Feet – Selective Mommery
A Place To Bury Strangers – Supermaster
Wand – Sleepy Dog
Mooner – Alison
Novella – Sentences
Billie Marten – Bird
Conner Youngblood – The Badlands
EL VY – Need A Friend
John Andrews and the Yawns – Peace of Mind
Moon King – Roswell
Rain – Slur
Joanna Newsom – Divers
The Zephyr Bones – Weird Summer
Eliot Sumner – I Followed You Home
Wells – Shepherd
Idle Bloom – Fare Fumo