This week on RELEVANT Recommends we’re looking at the latest album from Julien Baker, Little Oblivions.
Julien Baker’s 2017 album “Turn Out the Lights” was her breakthrough, a showcase for one of her generation’s most gifted new songwriting talents to really stretch her wings. Baker’s ear for melody and incredible voice are raw material for her lyrics, which plumb the depths of her struggles with depression, insecurity and the lengths she goes to cope with them. In moments of shocking honestly, she calls to mind the likes of Bright Eyes and Pedro the Lion, detailing the emotional chaos in her heart with so much raw vulnerability that it’d be bleak if it wasn’t so beautiful.
Her new album Little Oblivions has the same pathos, but it’s less bracing. Baker produced the whole thing with the help of a full band, and she pushes herself to musical experimentation. This is Julien at her most accessible, creating grand epics that feel big enough for an arena tour even as the lyrics themselves sound like something you’d only whisper to your most trusted friends. Things get very dark but Baker summons power from this honest appraisal of her situation. She’s rather face her stormy interior life head on than pretend otherwise, and that courage emboldens her for the next day. It might do the same for her fans.
If you found about about Baker through her indie supergroup Boygenius, you’re in luck here. There’s a mini-reunion with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Daucus on “Favor” and their harmonies help ease the sting of Baker’s somber thoughts. “Faith Healer,” meanwhile, captures Julien at her loneliest, meditating on addiction — both its inability to provide any real deliverance and how hard it is to escape anyway.
So, yes, none of this is an easy listen. But Baker’s many fans know the value in hearing someone else’s chronicle of their own heartache, both for making you feel a little less alone and maybe even helping you understand your own grief a little better. It won’t cheer you up. But it might make you a better person.
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