Julien Baker has always been an artist that makes you stop, notice and absorb her talents. Now onto her third album, Baker is as prolifically complete on Little Oblivions as she’s ever been since releasing debut album Sprained Ankle half a decade ago. There’s very little, if any, façade to what pours out in her music; she’s honest from front to back and completely ready to make you sad and feel way too much about everything from the opening notes of every song.
Is there an artist you can vividly remember hearing for the first time? So much so it’s stuck with you, etched in your brain more than half a decade after first listening to them? I first heard Julien Baker back in 2015 around the time she released Sprained Ankle. I’d just got into my car after a shift at work, having absolutely bombed out on a job interview earlier in the day. Naturally I was pretty bummed as I came to grips with having to work a while longer in a job I didn’t like. At this point, the radio presenter introduced a new artist from the US. As the opening notes of “Something” played out, it was very obvious that Julien Baker was, and still is, something pretty remarkable. This has not changed on Little Oblivions.
Slowly dripping us singles over the past few months, all things indicate to Little Oblivions being Baker’s best album yet. From the first taste of “Faith Healer”, the instantly recognisable tone and licks of the guitar when matched with Baker’s vocals, made it an obvious choice to be the first single from the release. Discussing drug addiction and abusive relationships, “Faith Healer” is a story of struggle hidden behind partly religious themes.
One thing evident from the beginning is the depth Baker has added to her songs. Not relying solely on her guitar, lyrics and vocals has allowed Baker to open up on Little Oblivions in a way that hadn’t happened on previous releases. The new textures of sound, via bass, drums, synthesizers, banjo and mandolin enrich a vocal that could so easily have stood by itself.
Opener “Hardline” is the near perfect first impression Baker could have made on the album. Straight away you notice the move away from the restrained sounds of past releases, with the emphatic distortion of an organ/ synth blasting right from the get go. Noticeably, Baker’s vocal is as clear as it’s always been, while the addition of a full band (not subtle in the slightest) is definitely welcome. The crisp maturity of the vocal delivery in the bridge prior to the final crescendo truly highlights Baker’s strengths in song writing.
Little Oblivions is a noticeable and dignified step forward for an artist whom has generally relied on the subtle intricacies in her vocals and guitar work. And while the consistent addition of a band propels the album into a new realm of brilliance for an already brilliant artist, it’s the songs, or parts of songs without a band that maintain Baker on a consistently progressive upward trajectory. The piano led “Crying Wolf” is a solemn and reflective peak for the album, while the opening of “Relative Fiction” is Baker at her most raw. The track on a whole, once the band kicks in, is an absolute ripper. And just like “Crying Wolf” or “Relative Fiction”, it’s the downbeat throwbacks to earlier Julien Baker, like “Song in E” and “Repeat”, that provide a continual and at time overwhelming level of depth and beauty to an already deep and beautiful release.
Coming almost four years after its predecessor, Turn Out the Lights, it’s been well worth the wait for Little Oblivions. Noting her sound as now being ‘post rock’ (albeit partly in jest), Julien Baker will, without a doubt, make more than her fair share of end-of-year lists. What she’s managed to achieve on Little Oblivions is near enough to perfect. It’s an album that makes you stop, take notice and takes you back to the first time you heard her (hopefully it wasn’t while driving home from work having absolutely bombed a job interview earlier in the day).
FOUR AND HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Little Oblivions is out Friday 26 February. Read our interview with Julien HERE.