One of Paste’s most-anticipated albums of 2021 is right around the corner, and Nashville singer/songwriter Julien Baker has been so kind as to share one last track from Little Oblivions ahead of her new record’s Feb. 26 release.
The instrumentally upbeat, yet lyrically harrowing “Heatwave” is out now along with a lyric video (created by Sabrina Nichols), following previous Little Oblivions singles “Favor” (which featured Baker’s boygenius bandmates Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus), “Hardline” and “Faith Healer.” Baker’s latest song is replete with “gruesome beauty,” as she sings, opening on the fiery image of an exploded engine, and unspooling from there into thoughts of death and the cosmos, all culminating in an unforgettable lyric (CW: suicide): “I’ll wrap Orion’s Belt around my neck / and kick the chair out.” Baker surrounds all this with some of the more casually dynamic instrumentation of her career, a diffuse set of textures featuring electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, piano and even a theremin, which taps into the chorus-less song’s sense of irrevocable spiritual unrest.
Baker expands on the concept behind the song in a statement:
Maybe it’s a trite or well-trod topic, but ‘Heatwave’ is really just about being confronted with how much time I spend worrying about things that are trivial. I was stuck in traffic because a car had randomly combusted, and it made me feel so stupid for being concerned with the things I had been anxious about earlier that day. It was just such a poignant thing, an event that communicated a lot of complex things in a single image. So I wrote a song about it. I know I’m not the first person to witness an atrocity and consider my own mortality or life’s fragility because of it, but that truly was my experience. Theoretically the lesson or symbolism to be interpreted there is that life is precious and it’s not worth it to give your time and energy to negative thoughts, but jesus, how could you be a person alive on earth right now and not have negative thoughts? It’s certainly less romantic to say that the consideration of life’s fragility made me feel relieved at my own inconsequence, but it’s true; it is comforting to think of the minuscule role everyone plays in the human drama, to realize we have more choice about what we give power over us than we maybe thought.
Baker, a wildly underrated live performer, will play a streaming concert in support of Little Oblivions on March 25, broadcasting from Nashville’s Analog (at Hutton Hotel) via Audiotree’s STAGED concert series. The show will stream at 8 p.m. AEDT, 7 p.m. GMT and 9 p.m. EDT, with tickets starting at $15.
Listen to “Heatwave” and revisit Baker’s 2016 Paste Studio session below.