By Rachel Laurie
Julien Baker’s latest release, Little Oblivions, takes her listeners on a journey through melancholic and relatable self-discovery.
Little Oblivions is a more experimental album for Baker, as her past songs featured just her and her guitar or piano, with her profound lyrics the focal point. Now, she has enlisted a fuller sound, adding in bass, drums, keyboards, banjo, and mandolin, and to make matters even more impressive, all of these instruments’ parts were written and performed by Baker herself. On top of that, she masterfully blends different genres, such as pop, indie, alternative, folk, and more throughout the record, with each genre working for her when she needs them.
For those who love Baker’s raw and vulnerable sound, however, don’t worry! Her lyrics still come through with the same emotional impact, cleverness, and relatability as on previous works. Everything was written during a year where most people had little to do but be alone with themselves, and Baker spent the period doing just that. Her ability to hold a magnified mirror to herself, show every blemish, and turn it into something wistful and beautiful is a unique and profound talent.
Generally speaking, Little Oblivions is the album the world needs right now. It has the cultural significance that Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher (2020) or Lorde’s Pure Heroine (2013) had. It contains elements of self discovery with a mix of romance, internal strife, and reflection on what got her to the exact moment that she’s in. Additionally, Baker has the ability to turn the mundane into a riveting story, and with a slightly pop-ier sound than previous work, she whisks us away with catchy tunes and vulnerable lyrics. Even from the opening line of the album, “Blacked out on a weekday; is there something that I’m trying to avoid?” on “”Hardline,” Baker lets the listener know this they are in for a ride of relatable harsh truths and realizations.
Underneath it all, Baker uses the album to undergo the difficult task of addressing society’s ideals versus what makes her true to herself. This is seen in “Relative Fiction” with the lines, “I’ve got no business praying, I’m finished being good/Now I can finally be okay in not the way I thought I should” — her experience is revealed in her songs. With plenty of parallels to religion, too, she seamlessly takes us through her own religious journey, one where the commentary on the actual religion is a moot point, but nonetheless ,the metaphors are there in her own life. This is something that anyone who grew up in a religious environment can relate to.
As you listen to the album, each narrative flows effortlessly into each other, dipping in and out between upbeat moments, difficult memories, and nostalgia, and ultimately leading to a realization about society and how she fits into it. In this vein, “Ziptie” holds a powerful line, line, “Human nature, call it a curse/Tired of collecting scars, and stories and the parties and the bars.”
Baker has always possessed a knack for dynamic lyrics and storytelling. What makes Little Oblivions different, though, is how she confronts the darker and most difficult parts of herself. Hence, listening to the raw, authentic, and daring album pays off for the listener as you, too sink into the comfortability of not knowing where your personal story is going, while simultaneously accepting yourself in ways you didn’t think was possible.
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