Julien Baker is an expert in storytelling and discomfort. Her debut, Sprained Ankle, was a devastating expression of addiction, with minimal guitar whispering around her expressive vocals. Even the album’s title expressed story and discomfort. While Julien told her stories with the complexity of sadness, regret, anger, and loss, we watched and related, or squirmed, or felt seen. Julien brought this power to her second release, Turn Out the Lights, but with a growing instrumental pallet that moved closer towards the complexity of Julien’s lyrics. Now, with Little Oblivions, Julien continues her storytelling and expanding instrumentals to form an album that is both religiously engrossing and remarkably intimate.
Little Oblivions can be surprising with its new, full-band aesthetic. Songs like “Hardline” lyrically call back to the substance abuse of Sprained Ankle as Julien sings about being blacked out during the day and the suffocation of unhealthy cycles. But unlike her first album, Julien’s new sound is more expressive like her voice. The sharp touches of church-like instrumentals match the sometimes hymn-like nature of Julien’s lyrics but instead of singing about a god or love, Julien sings about death, anxiety, and uncertainty.
Julien’s new album could certainly be described as depressing. “I’ll wrap Orion’s belt around my neck and kick the chair out,” Julien tells us on “Heatwave,” like a suicide note. There isn’t necessarily an obvious arc of hope throughout Little Oblivions, it would be hard to find hope in these lyrics. But really, the fact that Julien made this album at all is a testament to hope. The singer’s words tell stories of a life that could have ended before a project like Little Oblivions could even begin. Julien’s songs might feel hopeless, but her voice is still singing, and that’s all the hope Little Oblivions needs.