Standing at exactly 5 feet, Julien Baker may be small, but her words are definitely mighty. Baker has experienced the best past couple years of her life, earning her way onto late-night shows and forging a name for herself. But with her third and most painstakingly cathartic solo album yet, Little Oblivions, she proves one ultimate theory: even when everything is going right, something has to go wrong.
Excluding her solo work, Baker is most known for being one-third of the supergroup boygenius with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. That’s not her first experience in a band, though, as she in 2010 helped kickstart The Star Killers, which later changed its moniker to Forrister half a decade later.
Baker’s name started floating around the media with the release of her debut solo album, Sprained Ankle. Since then, she’s released her sophomore album, Turn Out The Lights; worked with Hayley Williams, supporting her on guitar during her recent Tiny Desk performance and providing backup vocals with boygenius on “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris”; and helping gradually grow boygenius’ fanbase. Her third solo record, though, shows that sadness still comes in waves — and hits like a semi truck.
Little Oblivions is not one for the faint of heart. Its overwhelmingly purgative nature is hard to swallow, forcing listeners to think how someone so sad could be able to channel their pain into something so breathtakingly pacifying. Baker has done this with everything she’s touched during her career — and refined it with this album to the point that anyone can feel like they can create something beautiful out of their affliction.
It’s possible to make your own “Highlight Reel,” a seamless mix of raw lyricism and ambient production that feels as atmospheric as the first concert you’ll experience post-pandemic. “Hardline” could be the inspiration you need to craft the telling of your story, as Baker (with her easy-to-imagine guitar face) uses her own experiences to create art out of the rough patches. This album will undoubtedly be the motivation you need to overcome whatever it is you’re going through.
Here are the best five tracks from Little Oblivions:
Behind a rhythm guitar line that bears resemblance to Novo Amor’s “Birdcage,” “Ringside” finds Baker reminiscing on her time with her ex, who decided to give her an undeserved second chance. Baker apologizes for being a burden on her plate when she knows they probably would’ve rather been elsewhere, and pleads to the heavens to help her heal so she doesn’t continue to aggravate those she loves. The instrumental break near the end is filled to the brim with explosive guitars and thunderous drums before simmering so Baker can offer one more apology — because she knows she has to make things right this time around.
The opening riff of “Repeat” is similar to that of “Feeling Ok” by Best Coast, just in a different key. Gentle keys and a reverbed guitar join in, culminating in a trippy experience for the ears while Baker’s tender vocals indulge the brain. Baker is asking her sober self questions she wishes she didn’t have to: are you capable of love when you’re not high? Right around the two-minute mark, harmonies make way while guitars twinkle right behind them, epitomizing the perfect music for the climax of a coming-of-age film. Baker ends by saying she’ll continue to live the same way in fear of change.
3. “Faith Healer”
The first single, “Faith Healer,” encapsulates the intense feelings of withdrawal Baker has sustained, desperately trying to stay afloat while she feels her insides succumbing to the nearby relief she knows the drugs hold. The instrumental breaks feature an uplifting guitar, almost juxtaposing the pain consuming her, and chaotic synths, which more accurately depict her current thought process. It ends with Baker asking her healer — aka a drug dealer — to give her anything that will bring her back to life because the aches of sobriety aren’t worth it anymore.
2. “Song in E”
This might just be the saddest song of the millennium. “Song in E,” which appears as a regular piano ballad on the surface, is a deep exploration into Baker’s inner thoughts amid a drunken night. Baker actually wants her ex to come over and tell her she was the worst decision she ever made — because she thinks brutal truth is the only thing that will help her move on. Blatant emotion is evident from the first tap of the piano, and it keeps going even as the keys fade out.
1. “Relative Fiction”
In “Relative Fiction,” Baker wants the person she can’t get out of her head to keep her company. While she thinks about hanging out with them, in reality, she chooses to not actually engage in conversation or even greet them once they show up. She knows she’s too much, so she just needs them to pick her up, take her troubled and inebriated self home and not ask any questions. She doesn’t apologize, either, because she knows it’ll happen again.
Even as a self-proclaimed Christian socialist, Baker knows she doesn’t deserve God’s mercy since she continues to not learn from her mistakes. The instrumentation meticulously builds from a despondent piano to a full-on celebration of realizing what she needs to do to change, as earth-shattering strings, smooth drumming and infectious guitar licks manifest themselves. The track is flawless through and through, making it the best on the already perfect Little Oblivions.