Singer / songwriter is a term that is used a lot, but there is a rare group of artists who speak to the human condition. Julien Baker is one such artist. Her track Faith Healer is an amazing track that speaks to the constant push and pull between suffering and beauty in life. This track comes on Baker’s third record Little Oblivions, which has been four years in the making. She first broke on the scene in 2015 with her record Sprained Ankle and it is great to see her continuing to put out music.
Musically, this track reminds me a lot of Bon Iver with its guitar led full sound. Baker is an excellent guitarist and she compliments her guitar work with bursts of electronic music, snapping drums and lush strings / keyboards at different points throughout the track. Her musical structure moves from stark verses to full and rich choruses, which gives the track an added warmth. There is a lot happening musically on this track, but Baker is able to keep it focused and not spin out of control. Most importantly, her guitar work is given room to breathe and act as a common thread that brings all the other musical elements together.
Baker’s track is not very long and runs only a tick under three minutes; however, she packs in an expansive narrative with emotional depth. Much like Emily Dickinson, Baker is concise and every word serves a larger thematic point. She sings about coming off drugs into the world to feel again, but emotions are too intense and she longs for returning to the numbness of before. She sings: “Ooh, I miss it high / How it dulled the terror and the beauty /And now I see everything in startling intensity / Oh, what I wouldn’t give / If it would take away the sting a minute / Everything I love, I trade it in / To feel it rush into my chest.” She cries in agony for the “faith healer / snake oil dealer” to take the pain away, but we know this is only a temporary fix as the intensity of life will return once the high is gone.
Baker explores the conflict within drug / alcohol abuse, which is that she wants to feel, but once she connects with her emotions it is too intense and she craves numbing the pain. This is also the central conflict in life. Suffering and joy are the two sides of life and one cannot exist without the other. Without suffering one cannot experience pure joy, but without joy the suffering would be too overwhelming. Even though the faith healer can bring her numbness in order to save her from this conflict, it is not truely living. Baker expresses this point with the song’s central conflict between wanting both numbness and feeling.
Baker’s ability to explore such complex material in such a direct and emotive way is compelling. You immediately understand where she is coming from and empathise for the position she finds herself in. It’s difficult to express such emotional intensity in under three minutes within an indie rock track. She is able to explore the complex relationship between the drug and the addict. On the one hand, you know what you are doing is harmful and destructive; however, it is also your one last option for relief. Baker captures this struggle in a grounded way that gives you empathy for the addict, as opposed to judgement. This is an amazing track that will give millions of people a sense of hope as they hear their story told in such an honest and beautiful way.
Listen to Faith Healer