Friday, January 29th, 2021

Julien Baker – Hardline

Introducing “Hardline” according to The Singles Jukebox…


[Video][Website]
[7.77]

Aaron Bergstrom: Finally, the time has come. With the outcome of the war hanging in the balance, the Julien Baker Manhattan Project heads down to the Trinity Site. After years of painstakingly enriching the concentrated emotional uranium necessary for this potentially world-altering endeavor, she has assembled the components necessary to harness the awesome power of the often-rumored full band. Some said it couldn’t be done, or that it would require a team of specialists, but Baker has chosen to play every part herself. Nothing can be left to chance. The flash hits before the blast, but just barely. Onlookers would later report that they had less than a second to process the climactic final line (“You say it’s not so cut and dry / It isn’t black and white / What if it’s all black, baby, all the time?“) before the full force of the instrumental crescendo flattened everything for miles in all directions. When viewed as a successor to Baker’s sparse but searing solo detonations, it represents an exponential spike in intensity without sacrificing a single atom of intimacy. She is become Death, the destroyer of worlds.
[10]

Harlan Talib Ockey: What can I say but ouch? The crashing-wave synths and ragged vocal performance — Baker sounds like she’s choking back tears when she edges into her higher notes — give “Hardline” such an incredible sense of pain and immediacy. The lyrics, too, are damn near faultless, perfectly capturing a horrifying mix of self-loathing and self-fear. The only obvious missed opportunity is in the outro, which cuts off remarkably quickly after the brutal gut-punch of the final few lines. If the goal was to escalate further and render this section even more tempestuous than the mid-song break, it’s dialed back so swiftly it never has a chance. Regardless, ouch. I might be crying now.
[8]

Vikram Joseph: The thick bars of synth that open “Hardline” feel like the heavy air in a room you’ve spent too much time in, or a dense winter fog that clings tightly to you the moment you step outside. When the flickering beat and Julien Baker’s taut, saw-toothed guitars come in there’s a tangible release of tension, but even as the song gains a sort of desperate momentum, its grip never loosens. Baker’s music has always felt like a contract between herself and the listener, a safe, dimly-lit space to which both can retreat, and in which every anxiety and insecurity can be uncovered. Some songwriters struggle to preserve the emotional core of their songs as they scale up, but Baker’s growth has been a careful, iterative process, adding layers but never losing the intimacy and painful honesty that makes her songs so precious. Here, she alludes to self-destructive tendencies, masochism and co-dependency; “Would you hit me this hard if I were a boy?” is a devastating line, even more so when Baker undercuts it by insisting that it’s something she chose. And yet her songs rarely feel without hope. In lieu of a chorus, “Hardline” briefly explodes into flares of sound and light, little windows of post-rock grandeur, offering the sort of sonic catharsis that she’s rarely allowed herself even when her eviscerating lyrics seemed to demand it; intimating that there may yet be a way out of that room, no matter how far you’ve gone to barricade yourself into it.
[9]

Dorian Sinclair: The sheer bleakness of the lyrics for “Hardline” is astonishing, and I am speaking as a fan of a lot of music people describe as depressing. There’s a resignation to fate, made explicit with “I am telling my own fortune/something I cannot escape”, which is a line that walks right up the edge of being too on the nose and possibly crosses over it. The music struggles to capture the same sense of inevitability though; if it had departed further from the lyrical mood something interesting could have been done by leaning into the contrast, but as is it feels like it’s striving to evoke the same thing as the words and just falling a little short.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: The cadences of Stretch Princess’s “Freakshow” with the story of Fiona Apple’s “Fast As You Can” or “A Mistake,” and if this week has proven anything it’s that there’s an immense hunger for ruining everything. I’m just happy Baker’s music has found any dynamics whatsoever — even if, contrary to the lyrics, the arrangement finds the brakes rather too soon.
[7]

Michael Hong: Building in a Julien Baker song used to just mean Baker changing her voice, moving from conversational to an irrepressible wail. But in “Hardline”, with its drums and blaring guitars coming at breakneck pace, building means more than just Baker’s enormous voice. Building means throwing everything you have to fill that void and hoping you’ve done enough this time not to ruin everything.
[7]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: “Until then I’ll split the difference/Between medicine and poison.” This song builds and builds with a hundred devastations as it becomes more bombastic. If I had occasion to drive late at night, this would be a regular in my car stereo. It feels designed for dramatic contemplation, for moments where you are the main character and it fucking hurts. 
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Every Julien Baker song sounds like the worst day you’ve ever had. This, on its own, is not that hard to accomplish. Plenty of sad-sacks have made music before, and many will long after Baker retires. What makes Julien Baker special is that she makes each song sound like a separate, equally devastating day. While “Hardline” draws from the same well of anguish that has defined the past two-plus albums worth of her music — addiction, abuse, queerness — it sounds completely new within her discography. Most of the rest of her music stays in-between meditative and yearning sadness, the sonic equivalent of the cool, hopeless morning after a truly terrible night. “Hardline” is much more immediate, its sonic environment drawing to mind sutures ripping and mind-destroying hangovers. It’s a song that knocks you over and tries to keep you down, a joyous hopelessness that envelops you. It’s the kind of terrible day that, in retrospect, becomes almost beautiful in its suffering.
[9]

Samson Savill de Jong: This does everything right, but I can’t quite bring myself to say that I love it. Maybe it’s too perfect, something to be admired in a gallery rather than lovingly blu-tacked onto your uni bedroom wall, even its imperfections being carefully placed to make sure this dark song doesn’t feel too clean. I just don’t connect to the song in the way I think I should, and that’s all that’s stopping it getting the highest of scores.
[8]

Thomas Inskeep: A rock song that gets more epic as it progresses, threatening to soar on its first chorus — and on its second, does so, before immediately fading out. I can’t decide if I like that about it, or not.
[7]

Alfred Soto: With lyrics as acerbic as Richard Thompson’s, Julien Baker has written a hate song to match the wind tunnel clatter of its opening moments: when I emerged my scant hair resources were decimated. It dawdles, though, when she pushes at the edge of her range.
[7]

John Pinto: Julien Baker’s music makes me think about the adults at my old church who were active in the youth programs but had no children of their own. Were they doing alright, setting up a little Behringer PA every Saturday for the informal service? Putting out crackers on paper plates and then going home alone? Kids don’t notice that stuff, teens are too overwhelmed by their own little phobias and puberty-wrought complexes to care. I’m wondering about this unrelated stuff because “Hardline” — a song which, to be clear, I like a lot! — sets out to devastate but seems to lack some vital substance. I suspect with more and more listens I’ll do a complete 180 on this opinion, and I get having your narrator be so depressed that the song feels weightless in its dissociation. But every time I put it on my focus drifts ever so, like with late-period Elliott Smith when the production would sometimes outpace the songwriting. The hooks on this one haven’t quite sunken into me. And yet! With each listen I like it more, so it may be that like with those church grown-ups, I’m hesitant to look too close for fear of seeing something that’ll destroy me. Fuzzed-out organ is always nice and more people should be putting it in their music.
[7]

Andrew Karpan: Another Elliott Smith goes electric. Julien Baker goes second wave emo with a symphonic slushie as big and tall as anything on Infinity on High. It’s the best thing I’ve listened to all year and ushers in a new sound for Baker, an improvement even on the last single, the twangy but too self-consciously indie “Faith Healer“. Grouping her with her class of post-Mitski critical darlings, I always found Baker’s music to be pretty but never durable. Powerful but never vivid. But here, the thundering strings command attention and when the guitar line starts, it’s so perfectly executed that the song feels larger but no less intimate. Asking for forgiveness in advance for all the future things I will destroy! It’s a message meant for you and a message meant for me.
[9]

Reader average: [10] (1 vote)

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One Response to “Julien Baker – Hardline”

  1. Looks like we’ve got another one for consensish.

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