Album Review: Julien Baker “Little Oblivions”

Julien Baker "Little Oblivions" - Album Review
Graphics by Kevin Shin

By Tatum Jenkins, Music Coordinator

Artist: Julien Baker

Album: Little Oblivions

Favorites: “Relative Fiction,” “Repeat,” “Faith Healer”

For Fans Of: Adrianne Lenker, Christian Lee Hutson, Phoebe Bridgers

Julien Baker is recovering, but that doesn’t mean she can’t still explore the pain. In her most full-sounding, mature work yet, Baker dives deep into public and private identity, the hypocrisy of religion, and forgiveness in relationships with Little Oblivions.

 

BAKER DELIVERS A HAUNTING PERFORMANCE

Beginning with “Hardline,” distorted production and Baker’s wavering, strong voice dominate this track. It sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the album with its searing honesty and emotional relinquishing through a bigger sound. She played every instrument on this album, and it shows. There’s an emotional precision to very layered synth, sound, and instrument. She knows what she wants to convey sonically as well as lyrically. 

This is especially true about the lead single, “Faith Healer.” On this song about struggling against craving, Baker’s voice shudders and fights its way through the loud, disorienting background. Every note, both sung and played, traces the outlines of a beautiful escalation; a musical manifestation of a revelation. There’s a silver lining of optimism amidst the battle, a sense that Baker’s self-awareness will pull her through this symptom of addiction. She is tender and bleeding and tough, and invites her listeners to be the same. While everyone watches, she strips herself of the lies those struggling with substances may adorn themselves with.

 

DISSECTING HER OWN DEMONS

In “Song in E,” Baker’s honesty finds her in a bind as she explores the emotional debt she feels she has accrued in her relationships. Taking the form of a church hymnal with a resonant piano accompanying her, she creates an intellectual knot for herself: how do I share my life, be honest with the people I love, without feeling as though I owe them? It’s a painful, yet necessary catharsis. 

Then there’s tracks like “Favor,” where she reunites with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus from their band Boygenius, and “Bloodshot.” Here, Baker negotiates complicated spaces and questions with the people she loves. While agonizingly analytical and critical of herself, music, specifically in this album, gives her a comfortable, receptive space to navigate forgiveness and tenderness toward herself. Not only does she explore this, her writing pins and examines each fluttering thought, crafting the perfect metaphor. It's device so unique to her own artistry, one that reveals her own personal truth. She is a master at conveying her own narrative, no matter how painful it is.

 

Little Oblivions is not a success story about substance abuse or love or religion. Rather, it is an endless work-in-progress, a waterfall of emotion cycling over and over again. Julien Baker doesn’t want to provide answers: she just wants clarity. And for a moment, her music can provide that.

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