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Julien Baker Embraces Struggles With Addiction On ‘Little Oblivions’


by Miguel Perez 3 Mar 2021 10:55 AM
This album review originally aired on NPR’s All Things Considered.

Julien Baker doesn’t mince words.

The Tennessee songwriter’s music offers a candid portrait of a young woman — raised in a devout Christian home — who went through addiction, recovery and relapse all before turning 25.

Miguel Perez says her latest album, “Little Oblivions,” reveals new folds in the musician’s road to recovery.

Here’s his review:

The first time I heard Julien Baker, she was singing songs off of her debut album in the patio of an Austin bar. It was 2016.

She was 20 years old then, singing softly about God and substance abuse on stage alone with her guitar.

Her new album in many ways doesn’t deviate from this spirit. Baker’s still brutally honest—unflinching in her study of addiction.

But whereas her past projects painted her struggles in simple, gentle lines, “Little Oblivions” opts for broader, bolder brushstrokes.

Baker has added drums, keyboards and mandolins to her sparse arrangements.

The production sounds fuller and more layered. Gently swelling into these big, beautiful waves.

Even the rollout was grander. Poet Hanif Abdurraqib wrote an essay to accompany news of the album.

Baker, he says, is a “writer who examines their own mess, not in a search for answers, but sometimes just for a way out.”

After several years of sobriety, Baker relapsed in 2019.

“Little Oblivions” does not offer much in the way of resolution — simply an embrace of failure.

An acknowledgement that recovery from addiction doesn’t follow a straight path.

Baker says songs like “Faith Healer” confront the dissonance a person struggling with substance abuse feels—knowing drug use is harmful, but still craving the relief it offers.

But, Baker isn’t worried about wrong or right. Just the reality of her recovery; Mistakes will be made, people will get hurt, and life will go on.

Her voice, bright and assured, doesn’t crumble under the weight of her faults. Instead, Baker’s songs seem to draw power from her flaws, as if to say, “I am human. I’m working on it. That is good enough.”

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