Music Reviews
Little Oblivions

Julien Baker Little Oblivions

(Matador) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

After 2017's spare, confessional Turn Out the Lights, Little Oblivions sounds like the sprawling, open-hearted statement we'd eventually get from Julien Baker. That's not to say that the Nashville singer-songwriter isn't confronting the personal struggles that made her predecessor so hard yet alluring to hear. The imagery that Baker presents here is just as devastating if not more so—whether she's on the brink of physical collapse, beating herself up for her choices, or condemning religion. And that's based on one song alone, present on the cautious, yet optimistic message of Relative Fiction.

But what's changed for Baker is in how she copes with her self-flagellation. By contrast, she now accompanies her dramatic performances with warm, full-band arrangements. From winsome piano ballads Song in E to propulsive midtempo folk-pop Ringside, Baker's craftsmanship recalls the '90s golden era of singer-songwriters dominated by artists like Aimee Mann and Sarah McLachlan. She's become such a confident performer that any intense, underlying emotions she projects are almost imperceptible—and can be just as enticing for the casual listener who wants to enjoy nothing more than a good melody or recording. The arrangements are still very much hers, and as the emo-recalling Highlight Reel attests, there's an intimacy to her music that validates her frayed feelings and experiences.

In Oblivions, Baker has undeniably tapped into her unexplored potential—though there's also a nagging sense that these changes feel like a lateral move and not a progression. There's a hard-won maturity here that makes every single line of hers deeply felt, even if it also emphasizes the more cloying elements of her songwriting. Still, Baker's bare-faced honesty and willingness to address any sensitive subject matter is altogether inspiring regardless of how she presents these songs. And though it shouldn't be, it's comforting to hear her sort through those messy emotions.