Julien Baker’s new EP, B-Sides, has arrived just in time for her tour with Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen. The songs were recorded during the Little Oblivions sessions but did not see release at the time the album came out in 2021. I personally have always loved Baker’s outlier/non album tracks the most, such as the various singles “Tokyo” and “Red Door,” as well as the covers and one-offs that have come out between albums and for compilations. This release finds itself comfortably among those tracks: a little bit different, but familiar at the same time.
And while these songs did result from the Little Oblivions sessions, I hear whispers of not just her latest work, but of all three of her albums within them. The lead single “Guthrie,” has the feel of being a throwback to the Sprained Ankle days; Baker at her most raw, just her and an acoustic guitar in a room, unembellished and pure. This song had previously been released as a bonus track on the Japan-only edition of the album while the other songs are being released for the first time. The other two tracks definitely fit more squarely in the sonic territory of the rest of Little Oblivions, featuring a full band sound (though with the instruments all being played by Baker herself) and lush production. And maybe it’s just me, but I also can’t help but think that if there were no drums on “Mental Math,” the shimmering guitars and warble of her voice might have fit into the track listing of Turn Out the Lights fairly seamlessly.
Julien Baker “Guthrie”
“Vanishing Point,” is my favorite of the trio of songs here, delving into the sweeping post rock she began exploring on the album (and has joked about), layers of guitars and keys swirling alongside the urgency of her plea “don’t feel bad.” While I very much enjoy her purely solo work and the songs that are more acoustic or based on only a few loops, these larger arrangements are what really show off her skills as not just a songwriter, but as a full fledged composer. Many of the songs on the first two records—both musically and lyrically—always felt to me as if they were somehow ready to burst at the seams, looking for more space to fill and exist within; with songs like “Vanishing Point” or “Hardline,” Baker has unlocked that bigger potential. The live setting has indeed seen some of those older songs get new, fuller arrangements to begin living different and fresh identities.
Julien Baker in London (photos by Kate Hoos)
I described her live set as a thoughtful three arc narrative when I saw her in both New York and London within the last year, and the same can be said of this EP. It shows slices of her past work, glimpses of the here and now, and a distinct nod to the future. Only time will tell which direction she will head in fully, but this EP serves as a beautiful waypoint on the journey.
B-Sides is out now via Matador and available on all major streaming platforms.