Julien Baker – Little Oblivions


Artist: Julien Baker

Album: Little Oblivions

Label: Matador Records

Release Date; 26/02/2021

Country: United States

Favourite song: Faith Healer (2:55)

Written by Matt Lynch

I’ve had my feelings, and by extension, my entire being regularly shattered by Julien Baker for around six years now. I guess I’m finally coming to terms with how the Memphis native lives rent free in my head after all these years. This is simply because Baker’s music possesses a way of triggering a response before I even have time to recognise the thought. In a show of pure performative power, Baker plagues the silence between notes with potency in every song she produces. Silence in her previous work fostered a disarming intimacy. Those songs cannoned around my dumb and ugly head, tied themselves to my emotional wellbeing and were bound inexorably to my core. The work of Little Oblivions is to flesh out these quiet moments. While not exactly the coup de grace to your positive mindset, this album occupies more space in your head, making those silent impacts even more devastating.

Hardline opens with contorted church organs which soften to undercurrent pads when Baker’s voice soothes them. A strong herald oscillates between well-acquainted, whisper closeness and newfound grandeur. Heatwave is linear in comparison as it dips midway through, before a more emphasised end. Guitar twinkles host a gentle interplay between -by Baker’s standard at least- muscular compositions on the following two tracks. Drums dive digitally faint in parts, loyally keeping Faith Healer and Relative Fiction ticking over. Even if they are not called upon entirely, you can rest assured they’re holding up their end of the bargain without being asked. Vocal doubling on this record is a stellar touch, laid over everything, Baker harmonising with herself. To offset her usual reserved delivery with higher vocal lines gives this illusion of a church choir made up of duplicates of a single singer, multiplying their own power. Little Oblivion then plunges us deep into piano ballad territory with both Crying Wolf and Song In E. Both transpose crushed vulnerability right from Sprained Ankles‘ playbook and upped the impact via all consuming piano helped by domineering vocal performances. On that note, production quality has been beefed up to match the enlisting of grander composition. It’s done without any detrimental effect. I thought closeness and the bare bones aesthetic would be diluted given the bigger instrumentals and more dense composition but in all honesty, the songs are flawlessly written, regardless of what is utilised to convey the message. When it’s a single instrument accompanying stentorian singing or a full band, everything is measurable within a millimetre of its life and done with meticulous precision.

Little Oblivions converts Julien Baker’s somber hymns to something oddly more earnest, in a greater space. They remain in an emotionally eloquent frame, it’s just that the framework has been expanded and every modicum of that new space put to use. Like a single sound in a dead-quiet cathedral, filled to the nines, the enormous spaces doesn’t detract from that sound. It still affects you in the same way. If anything, it hits even harder.

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