The Animated Craft Of Julien Baker

Torres’ Mackenzie Scott helps us unpack Baker’s Little Oblivions. Content by NPR Music and Jewly Hight.  

On Little Oblivions, Julien Baker finds ways to intensify and expand her already incisive communication style. Her visceral imagery and poetic yet conversational language animates her fatalistic, life-and-death reflections, and veers from the familiar austerity of her voice-and-Telecaster arrangements.

The day that Baker released her dozen-song set, NPR Music hosted a live Listening Party on YouTube. The virtual party goers included Baker, indie-rock peer Mackenzie Scott (aka Torres), myself, and an adoring chat room.

Baker carefully considered how she’d rethought her aesthetic values and recalibrated her creative process to allow for experimentation. Scott, drawing on her own experiences as an album maker, had her own take on what it’s like to have her music characterized as the product of, say, purging as opposed to craft. She didn’t hesitate to get rousingly blunt, and even a little smart-assed.

“I’m a person who spends a lot of time in my songwriting and in my daily life having an internal freakout about specifically which terminology I’m using for any conversation,” Julien Baker tells NPR. Photo: Alysse Gafkjen/Courtesy of the artist

“You’re like, ‘OK, well, I only spent, like, eight months to two years crafting these ten songs and writing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting, spending hours every day, just trying to get to the heart of what I was even trying to say,” Mackenzie Scott told NPR as she unpacked those implicitly gendered perceptions. “When I finally figured out what I was trying to say, then I figured out how to rhyme it all and put in the poetry. Yeah, sure, call it ‘raw’ because it was totally spontaneous. Right. It’s just a journal entry. Right.”

For the first time, Julien Baker built her own full-band studio sound, stretching her crescendoing vocal lines over a sinewy, intricate tangle of guitar, keyboard, drums and electronic effects. That lends Little Oblivions a new dynamic tension, between forces rupturing the surface and roiling beneath it.