Julien Baker Reaches New Sonic Heights On ‘Little Oblivions’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

After a three-year solo album hiatus, Julien Baker has returned with a new LP Little Oblivions out on Matador Records. Baker’s last album Turn Out the Lights was released in 2017, in it, she focused on themes of depression, worthiness, and religion. Baker’s lyrics have always been devastating with minimal instrumentation — Little Oblivions doesn’t stray from the bleak lyrical content, but Baker pairs her songwriting alongside a new experimental sonic step. Baker has managed to marry heavy instrumentation and gorgeous lyrics without sacrificing the lo-fi bedroom rock that marked her an indie superstar.

The opening track, “Hardline” is a very strong start to the lp, the song begins instrumentally innocuous, Baker sings, “Blacked out on a weekday/Still something that I’m trying to avoid/Start asking for forgiveness in advance/For all the future things I will destroy”. The song ramps up as she sings, “I can see where this is going/But I can’t find the break” and then Baker does something new — she drops a post-rock sledgehammer that populates the instrumental break. It is a refreshing change of pace for Baker’s usual acoustic and soft sounds. ‘Little Oblivions’ features many of these instrumental gut punches.

Speaking of punches, boxing is a reoccurring motif throughout Little Oblivions. On “Bloodshot”, she sings “It takes two kinds of pills/To unclench my fists” and shortly after Baker delivers with another post-rock barrage of sound break. 

“Ringside” directly follows. The song begins with a guitar chord that feels familiar to Arcade Fire’s “No Cars Go”.  The fighting motif is explored further — “Beat myself until I’m bloody/And I’ll give you a ringside seat”. Baker appears to battle demons of anxiety, addictions, and relationships — when confronted with these foes, she attacks them with dreamlike instrumental breaks.

This album features many “tiny oblivions”, short ethereal post-rock guitars layered over each other that blast off into some new universe that appears distant, but in real time, is a cathartic release found deep within Baker’s battle with addictions, relationships, and anxiety. Baker wrestles with herself during these moments of tiny oblivion.

Julien Baker proves that she can reach new sonic heights in Tiny Oblivions without sacrificing the devastatingly personal lyrics that helped catapult her career. “Sat on the hood, out all night/Trying to scrape together change/You pulled a moth out/From the grill of your truck/Saying it’s a shame”. Baker never strays from her lyrical concreteness and she pushes further into a new explosive direction — ‘Tiny Oblivions’ is a very strong return from Baker’s three-year hiatus, this lp will surely make a lot of listeners end of the year lists.


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