In the year 2020, Phoebe Bridgers really had a moment. Her album Punisher took her career to a new level. She found enough success to get to appear on Saturday Night Live and fail to effectively smash a guitar and cause a bunch of weird discourse. I named it my album of the year. While I am a big fan of Bridgers, I am equally a fan of her friend and boygenius bandmate Julien Baker. Baker is a little further along in her career than Bridgers, on account of the fact she just released her third album Little Oblivions. Like Bridgers, she is a contemplative singer-songwriter with a beautiful voice and a propensity to exorcise her demons in song. However, her journey, and her songs, are entirely her own.
People have said that Little Oblivions is an expansion of Baker’s sound, but personally I think they are having that discourse one album too late, as I noted that on Turn Out the Lights, which came out in 2017. Baker is no longer just strumming an acoustic guitar, but she’s still pouring her heart out in her songs, and she still has that beautiful, effective voice. Right from the get go with “Hardline” it’s clear that this is going be a wrenching listen. It’s also a great song. So is “Faith Healer.” The album, as a whole, is really good. Little Oblivions is an album you need to spend some time with, though, since the power is more in the lyrics than the acoustics.
Over 12 songs and 42 minutes, Baker talks about her experience, many of which involve sadness, substance abuse, and much more. It’s all there in the lyric from “Bloodshot” that adorns the albums cover: “There’s no glory in love, only the gore of our hearts.” That’s not just AIM away message good. It’s straight-up profile good!
I didn’t feel floored by Little Oblivions in the way I was by Turn Out the Lights. It’s undeniably gripping, though. Baker is as strong a lyricist as you will find, but I wonder if sonically the album could have been taken up a notch. It’s the best album of 2021 I have heard so far, but it’s early. By the end of the year, it very likely won’t top my list. It’s definitely earning my spins right now, though.