ALBUM REVIEW: boygenius Deepens Their Connection With ‘the record’
What a difference a few years makes.
Back in 2018, the slyly dubbed singer-songwriter supergroup boygenius (consisting of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus) felt like a glorified tour-promoting one-off, with each artist tossing in a few songs for the other to harmonize behind on an EP that would become a curio and collector’s item in each artist’s career.
Instead, the EP (ND review) did something quite different. While each tune on the record has a distinctive composer and sound, the collaborative musical spirit and side-by-side lyrical perspectives gave these three emotive songwriters known for their interiority and sense of loneliness a new feeling — a sense that they were sharing something. Something a bit profound, a bit secretive, and more than a bit familial. Something like a proverbial band of brothers.
Five years later comes the record, a full-length that feels very much like a polished and fully imagined version of what that EP promised. It showcases the evolution of each artist since 2018 and even deepens that sense of connection. These songs that feel like the trio is singing to, and about, each other as much as anybody else.
The record opens with Dacus-led a cappella tune “Without You Without Them,” which harkens back to her familial meditations on 2021’s excellent Home Video (ND review) but also feels like a thematic manifesto. The trio sings together “speak to me, until your history is no mystery” and “I’ll give everything I got please take what I can give / I want you to hear my story and be a part of it.” The audio quality feels reminiscent of a voicemail, giving the aura of intimacy to what lies ahead.
From there, we get the three tunes released in advance of the full-length, each representing the most “solo” tracks on the record. There’s the driving, vintage 2000s indie rock riffage of Baker’s “$20,” where she delivers the vintage opening line “it’s a bad idea / and I’m all about it” and showcases her stadium-sized emo-rock. This is followed by a quintessential Bridgers ballad, “Emily, I’m Sorry,” and then the Dacus tune “True Blue,” a buoyant love song full of achingly specific, occasionally devastating detail.
Even among those songs, there’s a fair bit of artistic interloping and sympathetic flourishes, but the three writers seem to merge and dissolve into each other as the record goes on. The Elliott Smith-indebted acoustic tune “Cool About It” feels like a genuine co-write, with each member passing the guitar around and taking joy in their shared penchant for devastating one-liners (“Once I took your medication to know what it’s like / now I have to act like I can’t read your mind / I ask you how you’re doing and I let you lie,” sings Bridgers).
“Not Strong Enough” features equal vocal contributions but feels like a far more free-wheeling collaboration. A rollicking ’80s synth-indebted rocker (the band has famously covered The Killers on tour) that feels like the most obvious radio cut from the album, the song toys with the lyrical conceit of Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough” and speaks directly to the gender play at the heart of the band name (the chanting Dacus bridge “always an angel / never a god” positively stings).
The finale, “Letter to an Old Poet,” cleverly interpolates the melody and key lyrics from “Me and My Dog,” a standout Bridgers tune from the 2018 EP. It’s a stunningly brilliant anti-love song, one that dismantles the power dynamics of a relationship in a way that reclaims a sense of self (“you make me feel like an equal, but I’m better than you and you should know that by now”).
As the kids say, it’s a vibe. And likely to be one of the most celebrated indie rock albums of the year.
boygenius’ the record is out March 31 on Interscope Records.