Little Oblivions, 180G Black Vinyl LP, Julien Baker's latest album!
Julien Baker turns being way too hard on yourself into its own genre. The Tennessee singer-songwriter and producer’s debut album, 2015’s Sprained Ankle, delivered gut-wrenching tales of injury and substance abuse while setting Baker’s prayerful voice over little more than twinkling acoustic guitar and a smattering of piano, with a title track that echoed Baker’s real-life experience of running herself ragged. Her follow-up (and Matador debut), 2017’s Turn Out the Lights, added woodwinds, strings, and other flourishes, but at its emotional core was a lone character convincing herself just “not to miss any more appointments.”
With Baker’s third album, Little Oblivions, her self-lacerating storytelling gets a more expansive canvas. Maybe the blockbuster success of Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license” has turned the emotionally specific introspection of young women into pop’s latest zeitgeist, but Baker has been doing this all along. The 25-year-old has become a de facto generational spokesperson who grew up gay, Christian, and hardcore in the American South and survived teenage addiction. Her profile has enjoyed an extra boost lately thanks to the triumph of 2018’s self-titled EP by boygenius, her supergroup with Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers. Over the past several months, in agrueling gauntlet of fascinating interviews, Baker has talked openly about the relapse and heartbreak that inform her new record, where she hones her craft during a notoriously difficult time.
Although Baker still plays nearly every instrument herself, the biggest change on Little Oblivions is a full-band sound. The shift is most jarring on opener “Hardline,” where organ-like whorls are upended by newfound rumbling, but it’s restrained in a way that softens the sting of a song that begins with Baker’s narrator “blacked out on a weekday” and ends with her asking, “What if it’s all black, baby, all the time?” The jaunty banjo that opens the next track, “Heatwave,” is a much-needed breather before Baker darkly vows, “I’ll wrap Orion’s belt around my neck and kick the chair out.” Particularly given all the mannered singer-songwriters springing out of Indieville in recent years, the jolt of distorted guitar on “Ringside” feels as welcome as the central image is unsettling: “Beat myself till I’m bloody, and I’ll give you a ringside seat.” -Pitchfork