Julien Baker
Little Oblivions


4.1
excellent

Review

by Rowan5215 STAFF
March 7th, 2021 | 40 replies


Release Date: 02/26/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: "I'm tired of washing my hands, god I wanna go home"

When Julien Baker wrote those words in 2015, the world was less on fire. There were still problems stacked high, of course, but we weren't staring daily into an abyss of isolation and hand-washing and surface-scrubbing just to stay alive. Julien Baker wrote a line about her own life – likely, the OCD she suffers from, which she's recently spoken about as being linked to her experiences growing up queer in the religious South – and five years later the words rang out across our scared new world, taking on crushing new meaning. This is the way of Julien Baker, taking the most personal pain and putting it into words that resonate within your skull.

Don't worry, this isn't the part where I claim Little Oblivions as the ultimate pandemic album or whatever - this music is too close to the bone to be reduced to a simple lockdown lament. Baker has always written in the language of violence, filling her songs with bloody knuckles, black eyes and skin scraped over concrete, and Little Oblivions pushes this vocabulary well into the realm of discomfort. "Hardline" and "Heatwave" describe violence against oneself in the plainest terms possible, offering up a lyric like "I'll wrap Orion's Belt around my neck and kick the chair out" with a stunning straightforwardness; later, "Ringside" turns the same self-directed pain into a spectator sport, with an apology for anyone who has to witness it. This is dark, dark shit: even Turn Out the Lights' "Even", painfully raw about the abuse it described, didn't reach the levels of harshness that Little Oblivions deals out casually, though never carelessly.

Like the recording studio is the inside of her head and the songs are echoing thoughts, Baker captures these fleeting moments and fills them almost entirely with the sound of herself, playing every instrument. Even more appropriately, her brief contact with the outside world comes in the form of Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers' harmonising on "Favor", a ghost signal picked up on an AM radio; for the rest of Little Oblivions' 40ish minutes, we're on a guided tour of the complex, multi-faceted mind of Julien Baker. Everything - from the more fragmented and internalised songwriting, to the chaotically detailed production - seems to serve this idea, from what seems to be an aural interpretation of a digital-age panic attack in the last minute of "Repeat", to the earth-shaking hugeness of "Hardline" and "Bloodshot", where Baker wails the climactic line of the album accompanied by a cacophony of drums clattering left and right across the stereo image. Ambient textures, detuned guitars, glitchy vocals and clamouring percussion pop up all throughout the album, like intrusive thoughts bursting in. Admittedly, all this texture starts to wear thin on the cluttered "Highlight Reel", a song which just repeats the finest moments of the preceding songs again to underwhelming effect.

This is the kind of album you make eye-to-eye with the abyss, much like the one we've all been staring into for a year or more, except the apocalypse on Little Oblivions is plainly internal. Until the very end, that is, where closer "Ziptie" edges over the disturbingly blurred line between personal and political crises. With a title evoking the restraints placed on protesters on the nightly news and lyrics which calmly but angrily accuse those who still stand in the way of change - "when you gonna call it off? come down off the cross and change your mind?" - it's both a significant progression for Julien Baker, and the natural endpoint to an album which embraces fractured stream-of-consciousness over the tidier narratives of Turn Out the Lights. Baker hasn't reinvented the wheel with her songwriting, and nor should she; her songs are still spacious and solitary, placing emphasis on her devastating lyrics and knack of finding the right melodies to deliver them. But on Little Oblivions, she's taken the spaces in her music that used to be empty and filled them with churning, beautiful noise.

If all that sounds like a mess, be assured it's a deliberate one. There's certainly a reason why, of all the standout lyrics from the album, that massive line from "Bloodshot" is the one scrawled across the album art in the artist's handwriting: "there's no glory in love, only the gore of our hearts". It's not comforting to imagine the kind of tragedies we might have to live through before Little Oblivions rings out with the clarity and power of her early work, but god knows Julien Baker will be adept as ever at having exactly the right words to assure us we're not alone.



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user ratings (190)
3.7
great
other reviews of this album
Brendan Schroer CONTRIBUTOR (4.5)
By broadening her influences and sonic palette, Julien Baker delivers a truly superb indie rock expe...



Comments:Add a Comment 
Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
March 7th 2021


44963 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

discourse, zack snyder, bet, etc.

Digging: Brockhampton - Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
March 7th 2021


34829 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

holy fuck it is here

best glassjaw

Digging: Xiu Xiu - OH NO

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
March 7th 2021


44963 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

wheeeen the medicine u fancy

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
March 7th 2021


3627 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
March 7th 2021


44963 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

^ look at this lad, describing himself in his comments! silly

Conmaniac
March 7th 2021


26372 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

love love love how u ended the rev with the bit from Bloodshot, always an early fav of mine u helped me realize why

gj row bro

Knott-
Emeritus
March 7th 2021


10234 Comments


i think it will take me a few months to work out whether i think this is better than TOTL or not

good review btw

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
March 7th 2021


44963 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

hey thanks folks



Bloodshot could be my SOTY thus far, what a song

EoinCofa
March 7th 2021


581 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

SOTY [2]



Great review btw

Digging: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - New Fragility

DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
March 7th 2021


8688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Awesome review. I like how you worked the pandemic angle into the beginning, but not enough that it overtakes the whole writeup. There's still so much to unpack with this album and I love seeing each different take on it

Dedes
March 8th 2021


7621 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Does this riff

Colton
March 8th 2021


9047 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0 | Sound Off

it's less like riffing and more like incessant fluttering

Dedes
March 8th 2021


7621 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Sounds like I'd dig

DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
March 8th 2021


8688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Don't listen to Colton, this riffs hard

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
March 8th 2021


44963 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

incessant fluttering is pretty m/



also Hardline riffs ahrd ye

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
March 8th 2021


44963 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

- Hawks

Dedes
March 8th 2021


7621 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I haven't jammed Julien Baker in ummm

Prolly a year and a half

Or really any sort of indie folk outside of The Twilight Sad lmao

I'll definitely get on this tomorrow morning. Reserving it for peaceful morning bus ride to work.

Romulus
March 8th 2021


8965 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i have been listening to this a lot lately - hasn't clicked much yet but i always wanna keep listening, which is usually a very good sign. it takes me like 374893 listens to decide if i like something nowadays it is very tiring

Dedes
March 8th 2021


7621 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is lovely. I love when the little glitchy beats pop in on songs like Repeat, it's nice adding in that touch of rhythm to something that's relatively minimalist.

Ringside is a fucking heartbreaker, prolly my favorite so far

DDDeftoneDDD
March 9th 2021


16986 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

really hoping for her sound to sophisticate a little. jamming aws

Digging: The Armed - Ultrapop



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