Posted in Music

Little Oblivions – Julien Baker album review

Julien Baker → Little Oblivions

Happy Saturday, bibliophiles! I suppose this isn’t a bookish post, but I’ll keep my normal greeting, because hey, most of what I post is about books. But here’s something a little different.

So here I am, finally reviewing Little Oblivions!

I got into Julien Baker late last year, starting with Sprained Ankle after hearing her distinct voice as part of the supergroup boygenius (with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus). I was immediately hooked on Sprained Ankle, liked but didn’t love Turn Out the Light (Sprained Ankle > Turn Out the Lights, fight me Pitchfork), and so of course I was excited to see that she was coming out with something new. What stands out most to me about her music is the raw emotion of it; Baker never hesitates to explore the darker side of everything, and does so with such intense, palpable motion. Even with just a guitar or a piano, she can make a shrieking ballad of grief or heartbreak out of anything.

And I’m glad to say Little Oblivions is no exception. While Baker experiments with bigger, brighter sound, she stays true to the emotional aspect that defines her body of work, making a whole new set of resonant and soaring music.

So let’s begin this review, shall we?

Julien Baker is a queer, Christian, socialist — we had to talk to her by  Religion and Socialism Podcast

JULIEN BAKER LITTLE OBLIVIONS (album review)

TRACK 1: “Hardline” – 9/10

Say it’s not so cut and dry,

Oh, it isn’t black and white,

What if it’s all black, baby,

All the time?

– Julien Baker, “Hardline”

NOW THIS IS WHAT I CALL AN AMAZING OPENING TRACK! Baker’s foray into new, more electronic sound proves an immediate hit, paired with her signature raw lyricism. Plus, we’ve got an amazing stop-motion music video to match!

TRACK 2: “Heatwave” – 7.5/10

The last single to be released before the whole album, “Heatwave” is reminiscent of the boygenius EP. There’s a deceptively upbeat tone and composition to it, hiding some of Baker’s darkest lyrics. The instrumentation almost reminds me of Wilco.

TRACK 3: “Faith Healer” – 9/10

This one was the first single to be released before the whole album, and it has been a consistent earworm for MONTHS, let me tell you…

Such beautiful, concise instrumentation, a steady beat, and even the effects overlaid over Baker’s unique voice fit right in with the almost spacey keyboards. A completely new direction for her musically, but one I’m ADORING.

Wooohoooo!!! — Marvel Contest of Champions

TRACK 4: “Relative Fiction” – 9/10

‘Cause I don’t need a savior,

I need you to take me home…

– Julien Baker, “Relative Fiction”

It would be a bit of a stretch to call this a love song, but that’s almost how I interpreted it on the first listen. “Relative Fiction” delves into Baker’s quieter, more musically sparse roots for a tender and poignant song of grappling with emotions and questioning one’s own self worth, and the meaning one might hold for others.

TRACK 5: “Crying Wolf” – 7.5/10

Continuing “Relative Fiction”‘s trend of quieter and sadder introspection, “Crying Wolf” presents a piano ballad reminiscent of Turn Out the Lights that soars to a resonant conclusion. (That “OOOOOO” that starts at about 2:33…[CRIES])

TRACK 6: “Bloodshot” – 7/10

There’s no glory in love,

Only the gore of our hearts…

– Julien Baker, “Bloodshot”

The song where we get the album cover’s gorgeous lyricism, “Bloodshot” toes the line between the two musical themes of Little Oblivions so far, oscillating between the electronic experimentation and the sparser, quieter ballads. Another deceptively upbeat song, telling of messy emotions and shaky relationships.

TRACK 7: “Ringside” – 6.5/10

I still enjoy this one, that’s for sure, but it felt a little bit like a lull in the middle. The lyricism is still stellar, but something about it doesn’t pack as much of a punch as the rest of the album so far has.

TRACK 8: “Favor” – 8.5/10

You pulled a moth out

From the grill of your truck,

Saying it’s a shame,

How come it’s so much easier

With anything less than human,

Letting yourself be tender?

– Julien Baker, “Favor”

As with “Graceland Too” on Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher, this boygenius collaboration truly shines. The combination of the voices of Baker, Bridgers and Dacus never fails to make my heart soar to the clouds, and paired with such poignant lyrics, “Favor” is absolutely a highlight of this album.

TRACK 9: “Song in E” – 10/10

My favorite song on the album, hands down. This one again harkens back to Turn Out the Lights, but something about both the piano and Julien’s vocals takes it to all new heights. It’s just…[sniffles]

And something about the way she says “name” at about 0:40 just makes my heart go 🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺

TRACK 10: “Repeat” – 9/10

Ocean of strip malls,

I help you swim across

To the other side…

– Julien Baker, “Repeat”

Another example of Julien’s decision to go more electronic with her sound paying off 100%. Catchy, but continually poetic in its lyricism, this was one of my favorite songs that wasn’t released as a single before the album’s released. Again, can’t put my finger on it, but I love the way Baker sings all of the words past the 3/4 mark with the long ‘e’ sound (ex. means, speak, street, dream, repeat). My brain can’t be troubled for a concrete reason, but it’s so beautiful.

TRACK 11: “Highlight Reel” – 7.5/10

Not my favorite on the album, but the instrumentation itself is what shines for me. I love the drums, the guitar, the…well, the everything. I can’t quite pick out what instrument (probably keyboard?) it is, but the part from about 3:21 to the end reminds me a bit of St. Vincent’s “Teenage Talk.”

TRACK 12: “Ziptie” – 6.5/10

Not the best ending for this album and a lower point overall, but still lovely. The lyricism is still painfully beautiful, but it just seems to wander about almost aimlessly. A good listen, but maybe something like “Repeat” or “Bloodshot” would have been a better end to the album.

Julien Baker is just being honest | EW.com

I averaged out all of the scores for each track, and they came out to almost exactly 8! I’d say that’s accurate; Little Oblivions wasn’t without its occasional low points, but even those were songs that I’ll surely come back to. A stellar album, and a bold new direction that payed off with every song.

And even though this wasn’t on the album, I can’t not talk about this…

I–

I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. This is a transcendental cover. And hey, Julien Baker and Radiohead: two of my favorite things.

Since this post is full of songs, consider this whole album today’s song.

That’s it for this album review! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Music, writing

Writing Soundtracks: Songs and albums I listen to while I write, and tips for making writing playlists

Ooh, would you look at that! A new header!

Happy Wednesday, bibliophiles!

I got a notification this morning, and apparently I’ve had this blog running for…5 years? WHOAAAAA, OKAY, I FORGOT ABOUT THAT

I didn’t start semi-seriously book blogging until about a year ago, but thank you to everybody who has supported me along the way! (And for those of you who had to witness what this blog was like when I was in middle school…I’m terribly sorry for the horrors you experienced.)

ANYWAY, I figured I should start doing writing-related posts more frequently, so here’s my first(ish?) stab at it.

Many members of the writing community use music in a number of ways in the process of creating their WIP, be it picking specific songs or albums to listen to while writing, or creating book or character playlists. Music is an integral part of my life, and I’ve managed to weave it into my writing life as well. I always listen to music when I write, so I thought that I would first share some songs, albums, and scores that I like the most to get me writing my WIPs.

INSTRUMENTAL SCORES

I think there’s been several studies about how instrumental scores help with studying, but for a lot of people, music without lyrics is helpful to focus on their writing, and is less distracting than music with lyrics. I use a mix of music with and without lyrics in writing, but for those of you who are strictly instrumental, here are some of my favorite albums–mostly film scores, mind you–that I use when writing:

Danny Elfman - Hellboy 2 (OST) - Amazon.com Music

Hellboy II: The Golden Army original score–Danny Elfman

Yes, yes, I know I blab about this masterpiece quite a lot, but hey, it’s Danny Elfman doing the score–what’s not to like? The score ranges from whimsically spooky to action-packed to tear-jerking, so it’s perfect for writing scenes of all kinds.

Radiohead for Solo Piano | Josh Cohen

Radiohead for Solo Piano–Josh Cohen

Even if you aren’t familiar with Radiohead, this is a spectacular collection of their pieces adapted into instrumental, piano form. I particularly like “Motion Picture Soundtrack” and “Black Star.”

Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross: Watchmen (Music from the HBO Series ...

Watchmen original score–Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Much of this one is electronic, but with a wide range of moods; either way, it’s always catchy, and perfectly cinematic. Also, there’s a gorgeous instrumental cover of David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?”, so of course I’d recommend it.

Anything by Jeff Russo, really

Russo has such a wide range, composition-wise, and every single score I’ve come across by him is nothing short of stellar. Some of my favorites include his scores for Legion (FX), and The Umbrella Academy (Netflix), but he’s also scored everything from Cursed to Lucy in the Sky and Fargo (the TV show)

NON-INSTRUMENTAL SONGS AND ALBUMS

I cram loads of music onto my writing playlists, but there’s several particular songs and albums that get me more focused/motivated/immersed in my writing than others, so here goes nothing…

Kid A Cover - How Radiohead's Most Alienating Album Got Its Cover

Kid A–Radiohead

Besides the fact that one of my WIPs features a character who is obsessed with this album, the sheer range of emotion in this album is stunning. Though it’s chiefly electronic, I’ve used these songs from everything from battle scenes to a funeral scene.

Recommended tracks:

Mitski: Bury Me at Makeout Creek Album Review | Pitchfork

Bury Me at Makeout Creek–Mitski

Another very emotional album, this one’s always great for writing scenes associated with any form of love, whether it’s the promise of it, being in the throes of it, or being apart from it. Then again, you’re talking to somebody who has had zero (0) experience with any sort of relationships, so take this as you will.

Recommended tracks:

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot By Wilco Album Cover Location

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot–Wilco

Apparently they called this album “the American Kid A” when it came out, so…did I cheat and put Kid A on here twice? If so, I don’t regret it.

Ranging from punchy, classic rock songs and dreamlike, melancholic hazes of emotion, I highly recommend this album for scenes charged with emotion–doesn’t matter what emotion we’re talking about, because there’s easily a song or two on here for everything.

Recommended tracks:

Phoebe Bridgers: Stranger in the Alps Album Review | Pitchfork

Stranger in the Alps–Phoebe Bridgers

Though I don’t like every song on the album, I’d say about 3/4 of it is positively stellar. Definitely on the sadder side, but it’s perfect for channeling strong emotion in your writing.

Recommended tracks:

David Bowie - Hunky Dory - Amazon.com Music

Hunky Dory–David Bowie

Besides being, y’know, the pinnacle of music, this one is chock-full of tracks that not only help me bring emotion and heart into my writing, but with songs that motivate me to write.

Recommended tracks:

GENERAL WRITING PLAYLIST TIPS

I saw a piece of advice the other day about making two writing playlists: listen to one of them while writing it, and a different one when you’re editing or making the second draft, so that you’re put into a different mindset while re-reading it.

For making the playlists themselves, I usually just dump several songs I like, and go through songs as I write. If there’s a song that takes me out of the writing or has been in circulation for a few times too many, I take it off and replace it.

Just for fun, here are snippets of mine:

And yes, I did color-coordinate the album covers. It’s fun…

(Or, alternatively, “the one that I accidentally dumped all the Weezer on” and “the one without any Weezer at all”)

I also like to cobble together playlists for each of my WIPs: here, I include songs with lyrics that relate to the story, or that just have the general vibe of the WIP. For some of them, I also create character playlists going off of the same rule. For my sci-fi book, there are six different perspectives (or, I’m going to make it that way once I get around to editing it), so I have a playlist for each of them. For my current WIP, however, there’s only one perspective, so I just keep it at the protagonist.

What do you think? What are your musical techniques for writing? What’s your favorite music to write to?

Since there’s a boatload of music in this post, consider the entire thing “today’s song.”

That’s it for this writing post! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Books, Down the TBR Hole

Down the TBR Hole 4–A New Hope

Happy Saturday, bibliophiles!

I’ve neglected my TBR-cleaning duties for the past few weeks, and since I have some time to blog today, I decided to be…somewhat productive. I’ll just keep telling myself this is a good use of my time. I suppose there’s a lot of dust bunnies that need to be swept out from under the metaphorical bed.

Without further ado, my fourth recorded TBR-culling…

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The Rules

  • 1. Go to your Goodreads To-Read shelf
  •  2. Order on ascending date added.
  •  3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
  •  4. Read the synopsis of the books.
  •  5. Time to Decide: keep it or should it go

 

1. Vanilla, Billy Merrell

Image result for vanilla billy merrell

Blurb from Goodreads: 

A bold, groundbreaking novel about coming out, coming into your own, and coming apart.

Hunter and Van become boyfriends before they’re even teenagers, and stay a couple even when adolescence intervenes. But in high school, conflict arises — mostly because Hunter is much more comfortable with the sex part of sexual identity. As the two boys start to realize that loving someone doesn’t guarantee they will always be with you, they find out more about their own identities — with Hunter striking out on his own while Van begins to understand his own asexuality.

In poems that are romantic and poems that are heartbreaking, Vanilla explores all the flavors of the spectrum — and how romance and love aren’t always the same thing.

 

Oh, this one’s definitely a keeper.  Gay/Asexual representation? Count me in!

VERDICT: KEEP

 

2. The Lonely Hearts Club (The Lonely Hearts Club, #1), Elizabeth Eulberg

Image result for lonely hearts club elizabeth eulberg

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Love is all you need… or is it? Penny’s about to find out in this wonderful debut.

Penny is sick of boys and sick of dating. So she vows: no more. It’s a personal choice. . .and, of course, soon everyone wants to know about it. And a few other girls are inspired. A movement is born: The Lonely Hearts Club (named after the band from Sgt. Pepper). Penny is suddenly known for her nondating ways . . . which is too bad, because there’s this certain boy she can’t help but like. . . .

 

Huh…as much as I love the Beatles/all these Beatles references, I’m not sure if that’s enough to hold up the plot. Plus, I’m not one to trust Stephenie Meyer.

VERDICT: LET GO

 

3. How Not to Be Popular, Jennifer Ziegler

Image result for how not to be popular by jennifer ziegler

Blurb from Goodreads:

Maggie Dempsey is tired of moving all over the country. Her parents are second-generation hippies who uproot her every year or so to move to a new city. When Maggie was younger, she thought it was fun and adventurous. Now that she’s a teenager, she hates it. When she moved after her freshman year, she left behind good friends, a great school, and a real feeling of belonging. When she moved her sophomore year, she left behind a boyfriend, too. Now that they’ve moved to Austin, she knows better. She’s not going to make friends. She’s not going to fit in. Anything to prevent her from liking this new place and them from liking her. Only . . . things don’t go exactly as planned.

 

Yeah, nope. I hate to say it, but…does anyone else smell a boatload of cliches?

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VERDICT: LET GO

 

4. Freya (Freya, #1), Matthew Laurence

Image result for freya matthew laurence

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Freya is myth. She is legend. And she’s about to make one hell of a comeback.

Sara Vanadi is more than she appears to be.

In her prime, she was Freya, the Norse goddess of love, beauty, war, and death. Now all that’s left of her legacy is herself. Her power comes from belief, and for an ancient goddess in the 21st century, true believers are hard to come by.

She’s been lying low for a few decades, when all of a sudden a shadowy corporation extends an offer: join them and receive unlimited strength and believers—or refuse and be destroyed. Sara chooses neither; she flees with the help of a new friend named Nathan.

With a modern power rising that wishes to bend the divine to its will, Sara decides to fight back—but first she needs some new clothes.

 

Lord…I added these books to my TBR about a year ago, but WHAT was I THINKING?

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VERDICT: LET GO

 

5. Bookshop Girl (Bookshop Girl, #1), Chloe Coles

Image result for bookshop girl chloe coles

Blurb from Goodreads:

A hilarious tale of female friendship, bookshops and fighting for a cause – perfect for fans of Holly Bourne and Louise Rennison.

Bennett’s Bookshop has always been a haven for sixteen-year-old Paige Turner. It’s a place where she can escape from her sleepy hometown, hang out with her best friend, Holly, and also earn some money.

But, like so many bookshops, Bennett’s has become a ‘casualty of the high street’ – it’s strapped for cash and going to be torn down. Paige is determined to save it but mobilising a small town like Greysworth is no mean feat.

Time is ticking – but that’s not the only problem Paige has. How is she going to fend off the attractions of beautiful fellow artist, Blaine? And, more importantly, will his anarchist ways make or break her bookshop campaign?

Eh…as much as I (sort of?) relate initially to Paige, the synopsis all started to fall apart in the last few sentences. Can’t say I have faith in this one.

VERDICT: LET GO

 

6. The Tomb, S. A. Bodeen

Image result for the tomb s a bodeen

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Your world is as you see it to be. Until it isn’t.

These are the first words Kiva’s best friend, Seth, says, after years of silence.

Kiva thought she was growing up in ancient Alexandria. That’s what she and all her classmates had been led to believe by their parents. It turns out she was living in virtual reality, in a sleep chamber in deep space. She and Seth are among a handful of humans who continue to survive. Because Earth no longer exists.

Seth was the first to wake up. Now it’s Kiva’s turn.

Together, they must take an escape shuttle, nicknamed the Tomb, to search for the engine part their ship needs to keep running. But it’s been a long time since their ship has communicated with any of the other vessels harboring human civilization. And not all the survivors are friendly…

 

For some reason, I checked this out at the library a year or so ago, but never got around to reading it. Though the dangerously low Goodreads rating scares me a bit (2.88…yikes…), this one’s still intriguing.

VERDICT: KEEP

 

7. The Wise and the Wicked, Rebecca Podos

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Blurb from Goodreads: 

Ruby Chernyavsky has been told the stories since she was a child: The women in her family, once possessed of great magical abilities to remake lives and stave off death itself, were forced to flee their Russian home for America in order to escape the fearful men who sought to destroy them. Such has it always been, Ruby’s been told, for powerful women. Today, these stories seem no more real to Ruby than folktales, except for the smallest bit of power left in their blood: when each of them comes of age, she will have a vision of who she will be when she dies—a destiny as inescapable as it is inevitable. Ruby is no exception, and neither is her mother, although she ran from her fate years ago, abandoning Ruby and her sisters. It’s a fool’s errand, because they all know the truth: there is no escaping one’s Time.

Until Ruby’s great-aunt Polina passes away, and, for the first time, a Chernyavsky’s death does not match her vision. Suddenly, things Ruby never thought she’d be allowed to hope for—life, love, time—seem possible. But as she and her cousin Cece begin to dig into the family’s history to find out whether they, too, can change their fates, they learn that nothing comes without a cost. Especially not hope.

 

Witches? Magic? Feminism? Sisterhood? Shut up and take my library card…

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VERDICT: KEEP

 

8. Hello Girls, Brittany Cavallaro

Image result for hello girls brittany cavallaro

Blurb from Goodreads: 

Best friends are forged by fire. For Winona Olsen and Lucille Pryce, that fire happened the night they met outside the police station—both deciding whether to turn their families in.

Winona has been starving for life in the seemingly perfect home that she shares with her seemingly perfect father, celebrity weatherman Stormy Olsen. No one knows that he locks the pantry door to control her eating and leaves bruises where no one can see them.

Lucille has been suffocating beneath the needs of her mother and her drug-dealing brother, wondering if there’s more out there for her than disappearing waitress tips and generations of barely getting by.

One harrowing night, Winona and Lucille realize they can’t wait until graduation to start their new lives. They need out. Now. All they need is three grand, fast. And really, a stolen convertible to take them from Michigan to Las Vegas can’t hurt.

 

Yikes. This one sounds like a rough ride, but I still think I’m in.

VERDICT: KEEP

 

9. Kaleidoscope Song, Fox Benwell

Image result for kaliedoscope song fox benwell

Blurb from Goodreads: 

South Africa is loud. Listen. Do you hear the song and dance of it? The chorus of Khayelitsha life? Every voice is different, its pitch and tone and intonation as distinct as the words we choose and how we wrap our mouths around them. But everybody has a voice, and everybody sings…

Fifteen year old Neo loves music, it punctuates her life and shapes the way she views the world. A life in radio is all she’s ever wanted.

When Umzi Radio broadcasts live in a nearby bar Neo can’t resist. She sneaks out to see them, and she falls in love, with music, and the night, but also with a girl: Tale has a voice like coffee poured into a bright steel mug, and she commands the stage.

It isn’t normal. Isn’t right. Neo knows that she’s supposed to go to school and get a real job and find a nice young boy to settle down with. It’s written everywhere – in childhood games, and playground questions, in the textbooks, in her parents’ faces. But Tale and music are underneath her skin, and try as she might, she can’t stop thinking about them.

Ohhhh yeah. I’m ALL in.

VERDICT: KEEP

 

10. Proud, Juno Dawson

Image result for proud juno dawson

Blurb from Goodreads: 

A stirring, bold and moving anthology of stories and poetry by top LGBTQ+ YA authors and new talent, giving their unique responses to the broad theme of pride. Each story has an illustration by an artist identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Compiled by Juno Dawson, author of THIS BOOK IS GAY and CLEAN.

A celebration of LGBTQ+ talent, PROUD is a thought-provoking, funny, emotional read.

Contributors: Steve Antony, Dean Atta, Kate Alizadeh, Fox Benwell, Alex Bertie, Caroline Bird, Fatti Burke, Tanya Byrne, Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Frank Duffy, Simon James Green, Leo Greenfield, Saffa Khan, Karen Lawler, David Levithan, Priyanka Meenakshi, Alice Oseman, Michael Lee Richardson, David Roberts, Cynthia So, Kay Staples, Jessica Vallance, Kristen Van Dam and Kameron White.

 

I haven’t read anything by any of these authors, but I am SO excited for this one.

VERDICT: KEEP

 

RESULTS: 

KEPT: 5

LET GO: 5

[Thom Yorke voice] “Everythiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing…in its riiiiiiiiiiiiight plaaaaaaaaaaaace…”

Image result for radiohead gif everything in its right place

Anyway, I feel like that was a successful TBR-cleaning session. I got rid of some books that were in dire need of deletion from my list, and I found a few possible gems that I forgot about. Also, full disclosure: I skipped a book, but only because it was a volume of B.P.R.D. that I haven’t yet read, and that’s an automatic keeper for me.

 

Today’s song:

I’ve had (Sandy) Alex G on my lists of artists to check out for a while, and so I decided to make a commitment to listen to his music today. He’s kind of hit-or-miss for me (I’ve only listened to House of Sugar and part of Rocket, so maybe there’s something I’m missing), but I found a few that I liked, such as this one.

 

Thus concludes today’s post! Have a wonderful rest of your day, take care of yourselves, and in wake of all this COVID-19 weirdness, stay safe out there!

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