A dazzling record with a crushing sense of beauty…

“You say it isn’t cut and dry, oh it’s not all black and white,” Julien Baker sings at the outset of ‘Little Oblivions’. “What if it’s all black, baby, all the time?”

Since 2015’s ‘Sprained Ankle’, appropriately, the Tennessee songwriter has built a catalogue of songs that explore the range of coloured bruises, grey zones, and emotional fractures sustained across a lifetime, observed up close in painful detail. On her third album, the view has swung from microcosm to breathtaking panorama.

It’s also louder. ‘Ringside’ is all soft-rock euphoria, while the bass-drum that arrives during ‘Repeat’ evokes her boygenius bandmate Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘I Know The End’. On ‘Hardline’, the effect is overwhelming; crushingly beautiful, it is perhaps Baker’s finest moment.

There are periods of reprieve: ‘Heatwave’ and ‘Favor’ feel simultaneously darker and cosier than the rest of the record. But it’s hard not to long for that dazzling brightness again, the hearts-on-sleeves yearning, as if one day the greys might finally wash away forever.

9/10

Words: Matthew Neale

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