ALBUM REVIEW: Julien Baker, Little Oblivions
Baker is a multi/instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and member of Boygenius (alongside Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus). Her identity as both a gay woman and a Christian informs her work, as does her love for literature and experiences with addiction and mental illness. This is her third studio album, in which we get a more personal look at Julien. The record embodies a pretty typical indie rock sound, based mostly around somber guitars and drums. Julien’s impassioned vocals definitely help to sell many moments on the record, as do her lyrics. Without getting too much into criticism, this album sounds like a monotone to my ears. Often times, it is difficult to pick apart songs because it all kind of sounds the same. The best moments, like “Bloodshot” or “Favor”, start with an interesting drum pattern and build momentum from there with the vocals. In general, it is well produced and well put together indie rock music.
Julien’s intention for this album is to write some entertaining indie rock music that is personal and speaks on themes of love, addiction and mental anguish. Some songs do a really great job with trying to get these themes across, but the majority of what I’m hearing is very general. Her voice is stronger than Phoebe Bridgers, but the songwriting is severely lacking. Like I said before, the entire record plays to me like a monotone. Nothing to marvel at, nothing to truly look forward to as you’re listening. I definitely don’t hate this record, but I’ve heard a country-indie song like “Heatwave” 100 times already and I’m getting tired at this point.
This track opens the record off strongly, Julien’s vocal work is well done as is the production. I enjoy the way she puts the word “black” into different contexts like “blackout” and “black and white” and then asks “what if it’s all black baby, all the time”, meaning what if life is just a depressive slog. I enjoy how tense the song gets, it’s one of the few exciting tracks here.
The songwriting here is improved compared to many of the other songs on the record. She compares the touch of her lover to snake oil, meaning it’s effect is subjective. When you find someone new, you want to buy into them and the way they treat you, but often times it leads to a whole bunch of nothing. The lyrics of this song come off as very clever, and I actually enjoy how sleek guitar work and steady drums interplay, it makes for an engaging listen.
The drums on this track are killer and don’t really let up. “I can see myself inside your bloodshot eyes” Julien opens the track, which grabs my attention immediately. I wish the guitars on this track played a little more of a role, they seem to be playing a backseat to the drums and vocals. This track is also cool because it’s lyrics reference the album’s title and words from the cover, before breaking out into an even more exciting drum and piano bit at the end. Great track.
Just like on “Bloodshot”, this track begins with really engaging drums and vocals, with a nice electric guitar handing in the back. She changes up her vocal inflection a little to give it a more Big Thief-folksy kind of quality that works well. I really like the line “just like a nicotine patch/It’s works for a while then it’s over”, which is an interesting way to tie nicotine addiction and love together in one line.
Overall, I really don’t have much to say. I struggle to find what is so interesting about Julien’s music, because I can pick out a lot of other singer-songwriters who have this exact same sound and some who do it way better (like Phoebe Bridgers and Adrianne Lenker). Her vocal work is there and she’s clearly a gifted musician, but that’s not enough to captivate me. This album isn’t bad, hence the grade, but without a few of the highlights I pointed out, I would be.