Little Oblivions

Little Oblivions

“Everybody is scared of death or ultimate oblivion, whether you want to admit it or not,” Julien Baker tells Apple Music. “That’s motivated by a fear of uncertainty, of what’s beyond our realm of understanding—whatever it feels like to be dead or before we're born, that liminal space. It's the root of so much escapism.” On her third full-length, Baker embraces fuller arrangements and a full-band approach, without sacrificing any of the intimacy that galvanized her earlier work. The result is at once a cathartic and unabashedly bleak look at how we distract ourselves from the darkness of voids both large and small, universal and personal. “It was easier to just write for the means of sifting through personal difficulties,” she says. “There were a lot of paradigm shifts in my understanding of the world in 2019 that were really painful. I think one of the easiest ways to overcome your pain is to assign significance to it. But sometimes, things are awful with no explanation, and to intellectualize them kind of invalidates the realness of the suffering. I just let things be sad.” Here, the Tennessee singer-songwriter walks us through the album track by track. Hardline “It’s more of a confession booth song, which a lot of these are. I feel like whenever I imagine myself in a pulpit, I don't have a lot to say that's honest or useful. And when I imagine myself in a position of disclosing, in order to bring me closer to a person, that's when I have a lot to say.” Heatwave “I wrote it about being stuck in traffic and having a full-on panic attack. But what was causing the delay was just this car that had a factory defect and bomb-style exploded. I was like, ‘Man, someone got incinerated. A family maybe.’ The song feels like a fall, but it's born from the second verse where I feel like I'm just walking around with my knees in gravel or whatever the verse in Isaiah happens to be: the willing submission to suffering and then looking around at all these people's suffering, thinking that is a huge obstacle to my faith and my understanding, this insanity and unexplainable hurt that we're trying to heal with ideology instead of action.” Faith Healer “I have an addictive personality and I understand it's easy for me to be an escapist with substances because I literally missed being high. That was a real feeling that I felt and a feeling that felt taboo to say outside of conversations with other people in recovery. The more that I looked at the space that was left by substance or compulsion that I've then just filled with something else, the more I realized that this is a recurring problem in my personality. And so many of the things that I thought about myself that were noble or ultimately just my pursuit of knowing God and the nature of God—that craving and obsession is trying to assuage the same pain that alcohol or any prescription medication is.” Relative Fiction “The identity that I have worked so hard to cultivate as a good person or a kind person is all basically just my own homespun mythology about myself that I'm trying to use to inspire other people to be kinder to each other. Maybe what's true about me is true about other people, but this song specifically is a ruthless evaluation of myself and what I thought made me principled. It's kind of a fool's errand.” Crying Wolf “It's documenting what it feels like to be in a cyclical relationship, particularly with substances. There was a time in my life, for almost a whole year, where it felt like that. I think that is a very real place that a lot of people who struggle with substance use find themselves in, where the resolution of every day is the same and you just can’t seem to make it stick.” Bloodshot “The very first line of the song is talking about two intoxicated people—myself being one of them—looking at each other and me having this out-of-body experience, knowing that we are both bringing to our perception of the other what we need the other person to be. That's a really lonely and sad place to be in, the realization that we're each just kind of sculpting our own mythologies about the world, crafting our narratives.” Ringside “I have a few tics that manifest themselves with my anxiety and OCD, and for a long time, I would just straight-up punch myself in the head—and I would do it onstage. It's this extension of physicality from something that's fundamentally compulsive that you can't control. I can't stop myself from doing that, and I feel really embarrassed about it. And for some reason I also can't stop myself from doing other kinds of more complicated self-punishment, like getting into codependent relationships and treating each one of those like a lottery ticket. Like, 'Maybe this one will work out.'” Favor “I have a friend whose parents live in Jackson, where my parents live. They’re one of my closest friends and they were around for the super dark part of 2019. I'll try to talk to the person who I hurt or I'll try to admit the wrongdoing that I've done. I'll feel so much guilt about it that I'll cry. And then I'll hate that I've cried because now it seems manipulative. I'm self-conscious about looking like I hate myself too much for the wrong things I've done because then I kind of steal the person's right to be angry. I don't want to cry my way out of shit.” Song in E “I would rather you shout at me like an equal and allow me to inhabit this imagined persona I have where I'm evil. Because then, if I can confirm that you hate me and that I'm evil and I've failed, then I don't any longer have to deal with the responsibility of trying to be good. I don't any longer have to be saddled with accountability for hurting you as a friend. It’s something not balancing in the arithmetic of my brain, for sin and retribution, for crime and punishment. And it indebts you to a person and ties you to them to be forgiven.” Repeat “I tried so hard for so long not to write a tour song, because that's an experience that musicians always write about that's kind of inaccessible to people who don't tour. We were in Germany and I was thinking: Why did I choose this? Why did I choose to rehash the most emotionally loaded parts of my life on a stage in front of people? But that's what rumination is. These are the pains I will continue to experience, on some level, because they're familiar.” Highlight Reel “I was in the back of a cab in New York City and I started having a panic attack and I had to get out and walk. The highlight reel that I'm talking about is all of my biggest mistakes, and that part—‘when I die, you can tell me how much is a lie’—is when I retrace things that I have screwed up in my life. I can watch it on an endless loop and I can torture myself that way. Or I can try to extract the lessons, however painful, and just assimilate those into my trying to be better. That sounds kind of corny, but it's really just, what other options do you have except to sit there and stare down all your mistakes every night and every day?” Ziptie “I was watching people be restrained with zip ties on the news. It's just such a visceral image of violence to see people put restraints on another human being—on a demonstrator, on a person who is mentally ill, on a person who is just minding their own business, on a person who is being racially profiled. I had a dark, funny thought that's like, what if God could go back and be like, ‘Y'all aren't going to listen.’ Jesus sacrificed himself and everybody in the United States seems to take that as a true fact, and then shoot people in cold blood in the street. I was just like, ‘Why?’ When will you call off the quest to change people that are so horrid to each other?”

Select a country or region

Africa, Middle East, and India

Asia Pacific


Latin America and the Caribbean

The United States and Canada