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The Earliest Bird 2-26-21 – 3-4-21: Julien Baker’s “Little Oblivions” Reviewed


The way it goes is the first album is the statement, the second is the iteration and the third is the expansion, and that’s the exact way Julien Baker, the (deep breath), Tennessean , Christian, Lesbian, alcoholic lo fi singer songwriter has gone about it.  Her earliest work, 2015’s Sprained Ankle, suffered from a problem, and so did 2017’s sophomore effort, Turn Out The Lights, saved by her work with two other indie alty women in boygenius, and reaching less fruition and more sideways reckoning on Little Oblivions -her third solo album

I wrote this about Julien Baker three years ago (here):”People seem to think Julien is a finished superstar now that she’s improved her song arrangements on her second album. The Memphis Tennessee reminds me a little of Joan Jett, not musically at all, but her warmth toughness, if you have ever met Joanie you’d be surprised at how tiny she is, you want to protect while being well aware she might clock you one. I feel that mix of tender and tough is part of Julien. She performed an hour of lovely songs that took you by surprise, that she sang till her lung seemed to fill the room, the place was completely quiet, completely at her command and she commanded quietly but completely. Yet, I am just not crazy about her songs, she was built to compose very strong tunes, if the tunes didn’t seem to burble below the piano and violin, didn’t drift along but grabbed you, the songs would connect much better: it is partially integrity, a refusal to compromise a real vision but the rest of it might be that she lacks the skills. Of the three, Phoebe is a rock star and Lucy is an Alanis Morissette, but Julien is more: she has the potential to be considered a true superstar, the way we consider Joni a top performer. But she isn’t there yet.”

Julien is there yet, here, either, though the sounds expands and her sex and terror tracks still miss outstanding tunes, it is her one problem but it is a huge problem. Julien sounds so committed to her story, the 25 year old alcoholic who reneges on god (the big oblivion) for sex (the little oblivion), her voice is her reason and her words are the sort of words you’d want them to be: “Pass out in the back of a cab, could you pull over? I think that I’m trapped. There has been a whole lotta Julien passed out over the years, she sounds like a reborn Conor Oberst.  Listening to the entire album for the third time, I haven’t gotten back to replay any of the songs. Her codaish “Tired of collecting the scars, and stories and the parties and bars” on the last song is pointing to a new direction, a classical popism she is aiming. And its best, the boygenius in retirement “Favor,” and especially the excellent “Repeat” and nearly as good with a killer hook (just guess) and if it had a strong melody it would be a danger.

But that’s where Little Oblivions keeps spinning its wheels into oblivion, “Song In E” (for her biggest mistake…) whirls in muted disconnect with guitar piano and a mesh of moving strings to nowhere. It’s a good album, not memorable but it will convert the already interested and not offend the likes of Pitchfork (Score: 7.6). I bet it kills in person, where, as the unlikely voice of queer Christian conversion, Julien will have her female bad faith healers enthralled.

Grade: B-


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