REVIEW: Third album's the charm for Julien Baker with newest, titled 'Little Oblivions'
Whether it’s the euphoria of running through midnight downpour or the misery of being alone in an empty apartment, Little Oblivions is bursting with emotion and dazzling storytelling. It’s also the album that has finally sold me on Julien Baker. Her candid approach to the conflicts of her religion, her addiction, and her sexuality is what sets Julien apart, and has earned her a devoted fan-base already. Honestly, I’ve tried and failed countless times to really immerse myself into Baker’s discography, but despite her heart-wrenching lyricism and commanding vocals, I always felt something was missing. In making Little Oblivions, it’s clear that she found the spark of magic that really makes a record.
Opening track ‘Hardline’ begins as a gentle introduction to the album, reminiscent of Baker’s previous songs as she discloses her darkest secrets with desperation. Though, it isn’t long until the symphonies build into a grandiose of drums, guitars, piano, bass and synths (admirably, all played by Julien herself). It’s something far more formidable than Baker has ever done before.
That’s what makes this album stand out from her others: instead of merging into each other, every track has its own distinguishable atmosphere created by the instrumentation. In beautifully bleak metaphors, Julien brings her figments of daydreams and nightmares to life, accompanied by soft piano harmonies and anthems of anguished cries. There’s even a newfound groove in ‘Ringside’, a metaphor around boxing carried by lilting bass – “honey, I’m not stupid / I know no one wins this kind of thing."
The rest of the album is so strong that ‘Favor’ - a collaboration that sees the boygenius trio (Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus) reuniting - is surprisingly one of the least interesting points in Little Oblivions. Of course, it’s a beautiful piece of music and serves its purpose. On previous bodies of work, it could’ve easily been the best song, but Baker has now proven herself capable of so much more.
A stand-out track for me is ‘Relative Fiction.’ Its gorgeous, late-night atmosphere twinkles throughout Baker’s moment of enlightenment; “I can finally be okay / not the way I thought I should." Her ability to simplify such complex feelings into one thought-provoking line is so impactful.
Throughout Little Oblivions, she constantly reaches epiphanies like “say it’s not so cut and dry / oh, it isn’t black and white," only to undo them again with the devastating “what if it’s all black, baby / all the time?” There’s something so real and relatable in convincing yourself, for just a moment, that you have a brand-new outlook, and always ending back at the same train of thoughts you had before. Recovery isn’t linear, and Little Oblivions gives great comfort in that. Practically every Julien Baker lyric lingers on the mind long after it’s been sung and leaves you reeling to revisit the album again.
Julien Baker's new record, Little Oblivions, can be streamed wherever you listen to music, and you can purchase it on Baker's online store or at your local record shop! Julien Baker can be found on Twitter and Instagram.
Caitlin Taff is a writer and Taylor Swift enthusiast from Sheffield, UK. Her love of writing was inspired by obsessing over Fall Out Boy's lyricism in her teens, and she spends most of her time in a nostalgic haze watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @caitlintxff.