Julien Baker expands her vulnerable sound on Little Oblivions | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Julien Baker expands her vulnerable sound on Little Oblivions


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Julien Baker’s 2015 debut album, Sprained Ankle, and its 2017 follow-up, Turn Out the Lights, centered the singer-songwriter’s sometimes fragile but always sincere voice as she journeyed through addiction and came to terms with her sexuality and spirituality. Her songs were bold in their lyrical honesty and unadorned presentation: Sprained Ankle featured just Baker and her guitar, and while Turn Out the Lights added guest violin and woodwinds, it still focused on her singing, which wedded her sadness and struggles to guitar-driven melodies. On this month’s Little Oblivions, a less world-weary but more world-aware Baker sounds like she might be accompanied by a full band, but she plays nearly everything herself—including drums, synths, and even a bit of banjo and mandolin (Memphis-based engineer Calvin Lauber also has a vague credit for “additional instrumentation”). Baker tends to record only with people who have an intimate understanding of her sound: She and Lauber began their music careers running in the same circles, and Lauber also produced Turn Out the Lights. The new blood on Little Oblivions comes from Baker’s partners in the indie-rock band Boygenius, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, who add deep vocal harmonies on “Favor.” The new album’s standout track is the comparatively stripped-down “Song in E,” whose sound faintly recalls Turn Out the Lights and whose lyrics reveal an intimate understanding of self-loathing. When Baker sings “I wish you’d hurt me / It’s the mercy I can’t take,” it’s a punch in the gut.   v

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