Self-introspection is hard enough, then to conjure it into a devastatingly poignant and beautiful record is the work of a determined soul. This work is on full display within Julien Baker’s first full-band record, Little Oblivions, slated for release in February. Written deliberately over the last couple of years, the release marks the end of a well-deserved break from performing during which Baker retreated into the safe confines of university study and emerged ready to return to the studio in her hometown of Memphis.
The song “Hardline” opens the record with strains of distorted organ like a resolute call to prayer before Baker captivates with the lines, “Blacked out on a week day/There’s something I’m trying to avoid. Start asking for forgiveness in advance/Of all the future things I will destroy.” Cue the drums, a first in a Baker record. She continues, “That way I can ruin everything/When I do you don’t get to act surprised.” This building and breaking carries on throughout and she is only getting started.
Backed by layers of wavy guitars, the album moves soon to the single “Faith Healer,” that moment when you know help will not be arriving but maybe that’s all right. Baker described this recently to KEXP’s Cheryl Waters, “When I took some time off and was writing in 2019 and dismantling a while lot of my ideas beyond just the context of substance abuse, I started to realize how it’s sort of like a game of whack-a-mole where people will try to fill a hole or negate an uncertainty or assuage a discomfort with all manner of things and how desperate at every point in my life I have been for somebody to rub oil on my forehead and tell me this is what I need to be doing… and that doesn’t really exist and its sad to mourn that kind of mythos but at the same time it’s really liberating.”
Little Oblivions balances the duality of heavy and light, and is at all times powerful and moving. We can only hope Baker will continue to share with us going forward, but we should be at all times grateful for what she already has. Catch an exclusive performance from Baker on Thursday, January 28 at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST on the first episode of the JBE Virtual SummitFest: The Series.
Photo by Alysse Gafkjen