Julien Baker won the hearts of music lovers right out of the gate with the startling intimacy and meticulous craftsmanship of her 2015 debut, Sprained Ankle. Her sophomore album from the following year, Turn Out the Lights, built on that with a somewhat more elaborate sound palette, recorded at Ardent Studios. Since then, her only release has been the 2018 EP by boygenius, a collaborative effort with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, and fans have been scanning the skies for any new solo work with great anticipation.
Now the wait is nearly over, with two new videos heralding the release of her third album, Little Oblivions, due out on February 26 via Matador Records. Watch for more coverage of that in these pages soon, but in the meantime, have a look at the video and soak in the sound of her sweet new single.
"Faith Healer" was released in October, and portends a more ambitious approach to production than Turn Out the Lights. While that album filled in her sound more than her debut, it was still rather minimalist, for the most part. Now Baker brings us the sound of a rock band, albeit one still laced with all the introspection of her previous work. Engineered by Calvin Lauber and mixed by Craig Silvey (The National, Florence & the Machine, Arcade Fire), both of whom worked on Turn Out the Lights, the album was recorded here in Memphis between December 2019 and January 2020. Baker’s guitar and piano playing are enhanced with bass, drums, synthesizers, banjo and mandolin. Nearly all of the instruments were played by Baker herself.
Upon the release of "Faith Healer," the artist released this statement:
Put most simply, I think that ‘Faith Healer’ is a song about vices, both the obvious and the more insidious ways that they show up in the human experience. I started writing this song 2 years ago and it began as a very literal examination of addiction. For awhile, I only had the first verse, which is just a really candid confrontation of the cognitive dissonance a person who struggles with substance abuse can feel— the overwhelming evidence that this substance is harming you, and the counterintuitive but very real craving for the relief it provides. When I revisited the song I started thinking about the parallels between the escapism of substance abuse and the other various means of escapism that had occupied a similar, if less easily identifiable, space in my psyche.
There are so many channels and behaviors that we use to placate discomfort unhealthily which exist outside the formal definition of addiction. I (and so many other people) are willing to believe whomever — a political pundit, a preacher, a drug dealer, an energy healer — when they promise healing, and how that willingness, however genuine, might actually impede healing.
Meanwhile, another release from Baker surfaced right before Thanksgiving. Instead of more material from the upcoming album, this is an unexpected curve ball from an artist known for very personal originals: a seasonal song originally popularized by Perry Como. "A Dreamer's Holiday," released as an exclusive "Spotify Single," reveals the artist returning to the reliable guitar-and-keyboard minimalism of Turn Out the Lights, and she makes the old chestnut very much her own. Anyone who wants to enjoy the yuletide vibe without the ear fatigue of overplayed shoppers' fare can relish the old-fashioned sweetness and Tin Pan Alley poetry of this gem.
In an amusing aside, the artist tweeted about the experience of learning this song from another era: "Straight up had to get on Ultimate Guitar dot com for the first time in like a decade to figure out how to play this song," she wrote, adding "when I was in the fourth grade my piano teacher taught me how to make a major 7th [chord] and since then I’ve been coasting off of that to make people believe I play piano better than I actually can."