Julien Baker: Little Oblivions review – unsparing tales of shame

Singer-songwriter Julien Baker’s acutely observed confessionals have filled two acclaimed albums to date. Sombre love songs that referenced her Christian upbringing and a recovery from substance abuse have been foundational to this Tennessee artist’s evolving myth.

By contrast, Baker’s third outing goes large, in every sense. These are tales about falling off the wagon, spectacularly; about hurting herself and other people, repeatedly, fleshed out by bass, drums and synths, most often played by Baker herself. Where her previous records tiptoed, Little Oblivions stomps on effects pedals. Album opener Hardline builds into a breaker of pent-up instrumentation for Baker’s voice to surf.

The writing here is bleak, self-excoriating and largely excellent. “The only kin I knew was who I could see from the gurney,” she reports on Favor, which features Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers – Baker’s bandmates in Boygenius – on backing vocals.

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The uptick in pace is a boon. But sometimes, Baker settles for indie rock percolation when she could be pulling the rug out from under the listener. It’s a small bone to pick, but these tales of shame and hard-won self-knowledge deserve greater musical bravery.