boygenius : the record

best songs of 2023 - boygenius

The term “supergroup” has generally been reserved for bands who are composed primarily of men, often a signal that some powerhouse rock star status has been achieved. But instead of clichéd arena-rock braggadocio, clamoring crowds and ego, the indie rock super trio boygenius—composed of Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker—offers a counterpoint to that paradigm with the record, redefining the narrative of what true collaboration can summon.

As opposed to supergroups of the past making grand declarations, such as Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” or calls to action like Temple of the Dog’s “Hunger Strike,”  boygenius’ confessional indie folk style retains a more subtle power, breaking down seemingly ordinary moments and sensory experiences to tap into deep emotions. The record, the group’s debut studio album, is 12 tracks of effortless indie folk synergy dotted with rage, love and acceptance. Following their tremendously successful self-titled 2018 debut EP, they sound even more sure of themselves.

Consecutively, all three experienced wide success with their solo debuts: Julien Baker with Sprained Ankle (2015); Lucy Dacus’ No Burden (2016); and Bridgers with Stranger in the Alps (2017). And all garnered their own dedicated fan base along the way. Before joining forces, the members of boygenius—their lowercase name a not-so-subtle jab at male privilege in music—became friends and admirers of each other, even supporting each other on tours. And that closeness is easy to see; in the video for “$20,” the three make a blood pact on their palms. “Lifting each other up [is] how we create,” Bridgers told Rolling Stone.  “We all get to be the lead. (It) has been the ethos of this band since day one.”

Though each of the three songwriters has their own approach, their distinctive qualities and personalities are given ample space on the record. Like their self-titled EP, the record gels with similar ease, with the tracks divided up evenly. Each leads four songs, with the others contributing harmonies and verses. Together, their message is amplified—emotionally powerful, yet vulnerable and painfully honest.

The trio’s guitar-driven sound, which varies from indie to country and emo-folk accents, is much like their solo work: confessional storytelling and songwriting that builds tension as unforgettable details unfold, then leaves the door open for listeners to form their own conclusions. The opening song previews their dedication to being equals; “Without You Without Them,” a tight collection of bare a cappella vocals in three-part harmony, honors past generations. “Talk to me until the words run dry, we’ll see eye to eye,” they promise. The song is a fitting introduction as Baker, Bridgers and Dacus offer up the ghosts of their families and the stories they’ve been gifted.

All three members of boygenius are experts at building their own arresting stories, writing ear-splitting words of wisdom and planting unforgivingly raw heart-stomping moments. Think of “Souvenir” off the group’s 2018 EP. Details like the line “when you cut into my skull / do you hate what you see like I do” slice through and leave a heavy wake. In “Emily I’m Sorry,” Bridgers sings of “screeching tires and fire” possibly indicating past trauma from her relationship with Emily Bannon (at one time the two were involved with producer Chris Nelson, who later accused Bridgers of defamation). The lyrics are peppered with apologies as the mythical, infamous age of 27 looms.

But boygenius’ songs can also become heart-clutching romantic novels. So many lyrics on the record are pure indie poetry—observations and advice prescribed through doses of mini therapy sessions to be revisited anytime you need. Dacus’ “True Blue,” which follows “Emily I’m Sorry,” paints a striking, ethereal scene, an icy mirage in a heat wave. It’s a love song with caveats that have since been wiped off the map—fights are no longer milemarkers in the relationship. “It’s good to be known so well / I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself,” goes its refrain.

The multi-faceted “$20,” another Baker contribution, features a quiet, dreamy interlude followed by a bloodcurdling scream. The drum-fueled song reminisces over muscle car culture, and what would happen if we just set fire to it all with what little we have. There are also quieter, introspective moments. “Cool About It” exhibits a country twang and earnest vocals. “Not Strong Enough,” inspired by Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough,” has the anthemic phrase “always an angel and never a god,” an “I see you” moment to those who feel they will never measure up to others’ perceived greatness.

“Revolution 0,” a callback to the Beatles, is about past violence and current resignation. “If it’s not love what the fuck is it? I guess just let me pretend,” sing all three. The song, which also explores depressive feelings, has delicate fingerpicking and a lovely, meandering melody. “Leonard Cohen” is another acoustically soft melody cut by Dacus’ lightly distorted vocals and gentle guitar strumming. The acoustic / electric mashup “Satanist” strikes a brighter tone with kitschy moments, Weezer vibes, and a quirky college rock riff. The final song, “Letter To an Old Poet,” which references “Me & My Dog” from their 2018 EP,  mourns a dying relationship. The callousness in the line “When you fell down the stairs, it looked like it hurt and I wasn’t sorry” shows the damage inflicted in an abusive partnership.

There are old relationships to unearth on the record, love to rekindle and pain to revisit—and ultimately soften. Its cohesion reinforces a simple idea: that collaborating with friends can only lead to greater growth for individual artists.

Label: Interscope

Year: 2023

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