Review: Julien Baker – Little Oblivions

Little Oblivions

The discourse around Little Oblivions, Julien Baker’s third album, certainly makes it seem like a rebirth. Indeed, with its full-band heft it’s a far cry from the sparse singer-songwriter quasi-folk of her debut Sprained Ankle, a collection of would-be demos by the then-teenage Baker. But for fans of hers, the comparative swell of Little Oblivions should come as no surprise; in retrospect, her sophomore LP Turn Out the Lights was a step in this direction, adding strings and occasionally horns to her usual piano- and guitar-based indie rock. While it contains some of her best songs (“Hurt Less” and “Claws in Your Back” come to mind), its songs were often still too skeletal to hold the weight of all her ideas. Little Oblivions remedies this, and then some.

The spareness of the music behind her voice, on the two previous albums, put an emphasis on her lyrics. They’ve always been a draw of her music; her poignant and honest depictions of alcoholism and depression are gripping enough to stand on their own, and she sings with enough conviction to convert a nonbeliever. While Baker remains an evocative lyricist and a powerful vocalist, the full band adds a whole new dimension to her sound. Baker jokingly warned on Twitter that she’s post-rock now, but there’s some truth to the statement. Nearly every song on the record would still be beautiful without her voice at all, as each builds and swells to give her songs the gravity they’ve always deserved.

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