Julien Baker, as she’s adding reverb to her guitar, strives to add chilling effects to her already desolate words, not to make them feel more relatable. She wants them to sting.
After three raw albums and a string of inimitable singles, Baker is finally starting to obtain the attention she’s long deserved, due in part to the recent success of her close friend and fellow boygenius bandmate Phoebe Bridgers. Baker’s latest, Little Oblivions, was a batch of gold in the world’s past year of gray, and it’s time that it and the rest of her discography make waves in an industry she should already be dominating.
Though her work with boygenius and Forrister is more worthwhile than can be put into words, this ranking only covers her solo material. Here is a definitive ranking of every Julien Baker song:
38. “Rejoice” (Sprained Ankle)
The clashing of the guitars create an uneasy dissonance, and Baker keeps her vocals almost muffled until the final verse. The realization of the closing minute shines through with her poignant delivery, but it takes too long to get there.
37. “Happy to Be Here” (Turn Out the Lights)
The track is a powerful explainer of Baker’s constant grappling with her mental health and substance abuse, but given the repetitive guitar riff and unchanging vocal tone in the verses, it feels more like a speech than a song.
36. “Brittle Boned” (Sprained Ankle)
The echoing guitar overpowers Baker’s soft voice, making it hard to follow the story. Once you look up the lyrics, you see it’s a very descriptive tale of an experience in a mental hospital, but no one should have to search for the lyrics themselves to know what they are.
35. “Even” (Turn Out the Lights)
Monotony kills. The lyrics are as grim as they come, but it feels like three-and-a-half minutes that don’t go anywhere. If you’re here only for the words, blast the song, but the music feels like it’s at a standstill for the most part.
34. “Heatwave” (Little Oblivions)
There’s no denying the opening guitar riff is gorgeous, but the verses don’t flow as well into each other as they could. The guitar serves as a nice transition point, but once the following verse starts, it feels a bit off.
33. “Good News” (Sprained Ankle)
This is just a hard listen — because Baker sounds so miserable. While her detailed narrative of her battle with addiction and how it’s ruining her romantic relationship is eloquent and gripping, it’s simply difficult to get through.
32. “Blacktop” (Sprained Ankle)
Baker’s voice dances around the pluckings of her melancholy guitar, adding a hint of life to an otherwise straightforward and dreary track of begging for mercy.
31. “Everything to Help You Sleep” (Turn Out the Lights)
This track is like taking the sharpest knife in the rack to your heart, laced with haunting keys and a pitifully hopeless Baker. Its lyrics, like “If I scream a little louder, I know you would have heard it,” are so raw that you’ll need to take a few minutes to compose yourself after listening.
30. “Over” (Turn Out the Lights)
This album intro is perfect study music, provoking curiosity through its wispy backing strings and painstakingly vigorous keys. Twinkling guitars appear before the track comes to a sudden close, and the only downside to this track is it’s too short.
29. “Favor” (Little Oblivions)
Baker recruited fellow boygenius bandmates Bridgers and Lucy Dacus for this sad banger, and their subtle harmonizing dots Baker’s prolonged notes with bliss. With a glitchy yet heavenly guitar-driven fadeout, it’s a track that gets better with each listen.
28. “Distant Solar Systems” (single)
This track is almost like a poem, containing no switch-up of tone or instrumentation until the final verse. That finale, though, is a killer, and if the entire track were that way, it’d be much higher on this list.
27. “Crying Wolf” (Little Oblivions)
The meat of this track lies in the ethereal instrumental break. It’s filled to the brim with atmospheric guitars that soon make way for Baker, whose third rendition of the chorus is by far the most breathtaking, thanks to soaring harmonies that open it.
26. “Ziptie” (Little Oblivions)
Even for non-Christians, the track asks a heavy, interesting question: humans continue to not learn from their mistakes, so when is the higher power going to give up on us? Baker’s guitar somehow sounds extra reflective, as if it has thoughts of its own.
25. “Shadowboxing” (Turn Out the Lights)
Baker employs one of the greatest metaphors to delineate what struggles with mental health feel and sound like: “When you watch me throwing punches at the devil / Ooh, it just looks like I’m fighting with me.” The verses either find Baker at a whisper struggling to keep her vocals linear or on the brink of losing her voice to the emotion. You’ll undoubtedly be at a loss for words.
24. “Bloodshot” (Little Oblivions)
The shimmering guitar line feels like floating on air through a universe far more heavenly than the one we inhabit. The beginning of the second-to-last verse, made perfect by Baker’s ethereal “oohs,” serves as a glimpse into the freeing feelings we’ll exude post-pandemic.
23. “Everybody Does” (Sprained Ankle)
Baker is letting her significant other know she won’t be surprised when they leave her — because once they figure out how damaged she is, they’ll leave and never look back, something she’s seen before. The lyrics are all too real.
22. “Ringside” (Little Oblivions)
Ever felt like a burden in a relationship? Baker certainly has. Her frustration with herself is intensified in the closing instrumental break, where the explosive guitars and thunderous guitars ooze with some relatable angst and self-loathing.
21. “Tokyo” (single)
The intro isn’t indicative of what’s to come, as guitars that seem as if they’re rapidly swimming forward are pulled back by the gloomy lyricism. As she lets her significant other down easy, she also reminds them they knew going into it what they would get: a damaged human who needs a shoulder to cry on.
20. “Highlight Reel” (Little Oblivions)
It just makes sense to put this track here because of its sonic similarities to “Tokyo.” They both feature Baker letting loose with vocal manipulation that feels like falling down a bottomless pit, but the one in “Highlight Reel” is more intense — and thrilling.
19. “Claws in Your Back” (Turn Out the Lights)
The last 50 seconds is almost too much to bear, with Baker’s falsetto running so high and holding so much power that it can touch the stars with ease. It’s inexplicably flawless, and she leaves the last 20 seconds for you to breathe, simmer down and recover.
18. “Hardline” (Little Oblivions)
Yes, Baker can make even an organ sound cool. While Baker dispenses her self-awareness, knowing she’s slipping back into old habits, rock solid drums hammer home the pain that comes with it. It’s a god-tier album opener.
17. “Sucker Punch” (single)
This track finds Baker taking the soothing route with her vocals. Against a spellbinding lap steel, her vocals soar so beautifully that it can be easy to forget just how desolate her words are.
16. “Vessels” (Sprained Ankle)
How is it possible for a guitar riff to hold so much sorrow yet simultaneously make everything feel OK? No one knows but Baker, who gently plays it as she looks forward through a positive lens for once. Simply put, she now feels God with her everywhere she goes.
15. “Repeat” (Little Oblivions)
Baker, known for tackling her drug addiction in her work, epitomizes it here. Guitars twinkle while harmonies dance around her deep thoughts, and she ends by admitting she’ll continue to live this way in fear of change. It’s heartbreaking but real.
14. “Televangelist” (Turn Out the Lights)
At the end of the day, Baker knows all she has is herself — because no one else can even begin to understand her deteriorating mental state. The piano is beyond words, wrapping around the listener like a straight jacket.
13. “Sprained Ankle” (Sprained Ankle)
The guitar, which mimics a clock, is the point of emphasis here. While Baker divulges how she almost seems to have a panic attack when opening up to people, the guitar gradually builds but dies at the end alongside any harmonies, indicating her own complete loss of hope.
12. “Faith Healer” (Little Oblivions)
Baker has sustained overwhelming feelings of withdrawal, desperately trying to stay afloat while her insides succumb to the nearby relief she knows the drugs hold. After an instrumental break takes over, almost juxtaposing the pain eating at her from the inside, chaotic synths ensue, and she heartbreakingly decides the pains of sobriety aren’t worth it anymore.
11. “Appointments” (Turn Out the Lights)
As Baker witnesses her relationship coming to a close, she feels herself slipping with no one to catch her fall. A transfixing guitar that sounds like it’s winding up to explode into something more never does, opting instead to stay in its original state for the song’s entirety. The track ends with Baker screaming to herself that she’s not going to move on easily, but she’ll tell herself she will to lighten the load. Make sure to have tissues on standby.
10. “Conversation Piece” (single)
The guitar, as pacifying as ripples of water passing through at low tide, leads Baker into revealing everything she tends to keep concealed: no matter how hard she tries, nothing she ever does is right, and it’s led her to not even feel OK in her significant other’s presence. As a batch of sublime strings emerge, she asks herself the end-all question we all beg to know the answer to: “So do you think when I die I’d get a second try / To do everything right I couldn’t the first time?”
9. “Relative Fiction” (Little Oblivions)
Though the person consuming all her thoughts actually comes to the rescue when Baker needs a ride home after a drunken night out, she chooses to not engage with them — because she knows how emotionally damaged she is. 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. It’s incredibly moving.
8. “Go Home” (Sprained Ankle)
Apparently, these drunken pleas to be taken home have been going on for a while. When her rescue crew shows up, she tells them to go through with the usual routine of keeping her away from the medicine cabinets. She lets it all out, ranting about how no one has ever loved her and she just wants to head home and forget everything she just said. The devastating keys turn into the riff of “In Christ Alone,” possibly indicating that the home Baker wants to go to isn’t the one on a street.
7. “Red Door” (single)
Baker has reached possibly the lowest point of her life, and she’s asking her prospective significant other to be with her, whether they think they see a future with her or not. Baker, revealed in between strips of ethereal guitars, is even fine with getting broken up with — because she knows that will at least make her feel something.
6. “Sour Breath” (Turn Out the Lights)
Baker knows she shouldn’t have become so dependent on someone she knew she wouldn’t be with forever. Even though she’s trying desperately to fix things between them, it’s only making the situation worse. The last 30 seconds get more poignant with each line, ending with an outpouring of emotion that’ll leave you speechless.
5. “Song in E” (Little Oblivions)
Saddest song of the millennium? It just might be. Baker 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 filling up your insides even as the keys fade out.
4. “Turn Out the Lights” (Turn Out the Lights)
Baker may seek out people to help her throughout the day, but when she’s alone in bed at night, all she has is herself to try to overcome her intrusive thoughts. Tranquility stems from the guitars, but once Baker begins cathartically screaming her pain at the end, they strengthen into an impenetrable force.
3. “Something” (Sprained Ankle)
Even though she knew they were over long ago, Baker wanted them around — because they make her feel complete. She’s finally figured out the perfect thing she could’ve said, but it’s far too late. Now, she laments to herself, a guitar reverberating her affliction through the walls. She becomes increasingly aggravated at herself, trying to scream the pain away, but finally simmers down at the end, knowing there’s nothing she can do to change the situation.
2. “Funeral Pyre” (single)
Even when nothing is OK for Baker, her music can make everything OK for you. She croons against the otherworldly synths that ensue as the second verse commences, creating an atmospheric world much better than the one we breathe in every day. It’s easy to forget the central theme of the song — a dying relationship — because the utter serenity of it gives off. The last minute as the guitars fade out is more worthwhile than words can ever begin to explain.
1. “Hurt Less” (Turn Out the Lights)
The unbreakable bond of friendship may just be the one thing that makes you want to stay alive — at least, that’s the case for Baker. Her best friend and former bandmate, Matthew Gilliam, who can be heard singing backup, is her reason. At the beginning, Baker revealed she never took the time to put on her seatbelt in the car because she didn’t care what happened to her. By the end, after her friend’s reassuring presence started weighing on her, she makes it a point to put it on everywhere she goes. Dreamy keys and strings line the edges, forging the feelings of Baker’s sense of renewal into reality. While most of Baker’s other music is jarring, this track is a breather — and a reminder there is always someone who thinks you’re worth it.