On their debut full-length album – simply titled “the record” – released last week, boygenius is grounded by their yearslong artistic collaboration and friendship.
Through their personal and astute lyrics, boygenius – an indie-rock supergroup made up of singer-songwriters Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker – discusses falling in love, feeling nihilistic and their sacred friendship with one another. Bridgers, Dacus and Baker continue to highlight one another’s strengths as individual artists while cementing their sound as a band following their critically acclaimed self-titled 2018 EP.
To the delight of many of boygenius’ fans, the release of “the record” was accompanied by a visually stunning 14-minute long short film directed by actress and director Kristen Stewart. The short film tells the stories of three songs off the album, “$20,” “Emily I’m Sorry” and “True Blue,” complete with blood oaths, monster trucks and blue paint-covered makeout sessions.
As they kick off “the record” with Track 1, “Without You Without Them,” the members of boygenius sing a capella, allowing the song to stand apart from their typically guitar-heavy sound. Through their mesmerizing three-part harmony, boygenius delivers a thesis for their album – in an increasingly isolated world, the relationships we forge with one another are essential to our well-being. With lyrics like “Give me everything you’ve got / I’ll take what I can get / I want to hear your story / And be a part of it,” the band speaks to our collective desire to connect with and understand one another.
In a sharp pivot from the album’s opener, Track 2, “$20,” hits listeners with a captivating guitar riff reminiscent of songs from Dacus’ 2021 solo record “Home Video.” As Baker takes on lead vocals accompanied by Dacus and Bridgers’ sporadic harmonies, she sings of a desire for rebellion. From the opening lyric of “It’s a bad idea and I’m all about it” to the impassioned closing lyric of “I know you have 20 dollars,” which Bridgers screams as the outro fades out, boygenius illustrates a coming-of-age story tinged with recklessness and desperation.
boygenius furthers the emotional depth of “the record” on the album’s third song, “Emily I’m Sorry.” With a lyrical style similar to her 2020 solo record “Punisher,” Bridgers leads the introspective track as she drafts a heartbroken apology to a former partner. Through her hushed vocals, Bridgers sets an ambient mood as she reflects on the role she played in the deterioration of their relationship. As Bridgers sings “I’m 27 and I don’t know who I am / But I know what I want” with supporting vocals from Baker and Dacus, she exemplifies the conflict of losing her sense of self but wanting to stay in a relationship – even if that may not be the healthiest choice.
On Track 4, “True Blue,” the band returns to one of the album’s overarching themes – the power of feeling seen and understood. Dacus sings over breezy and calming instrumentals as she pens a love letter to a friendship that is “true blue,” or one that is truly loyal. From lines like “Who won the fight? I don’t know / We’re not keeping score” to “I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself / I remember who I am when I’m with you,” boygenius celebrates the friendships that rise above frivolous conflicts and make you feel like the truest version of yourself.
“Cool About It,” the quiet and contemplative fifth track, continues boygenius’ reflection on current and past relationships. As they draw inspiration from the lyrical and guitar style of Paul Simon, the members of boygenius examine how faltering communication causes a relationship to come apart at the seams. Throughout each of their solo verses, Baker, Dacus and Bridgers overthink romantic interactions as they try not to rock the boat of the troubled relationship at the heart of this song. “I can walk you home and practice method acting / I’ll pretend bein’ with you doesn’t feel like drowning,” the members sing in harmony as they confess how overwhelming it is to pretend everything in this relationship is fine.
“Not Strong Enough,” a country-pop tune, lies at the center of the track list and finds boygenius at their most unified moment on “the record.” Although they collectively lament about not feeling good enough to be someone’s partner and how this insecurity drives them to selfishness, the track’s anthemic instrumentals make “Not Strong Enough” a joyful moment on the album. The song reaches a true moment of catharsis in the bridge, as Bridgers, Baker and Dacus repeat the line “Always an angel, never a god.” As the bridge reaches its most intense moment, the song transitions into the final chorus. Dacus sings, “I don’t know why I am the way I am,” continuing the group’s introspection.
Following the high intensity of “Not Strong Enough,” boygenius transitions to a quieter moment on the song “Revolution 0.” Led by Bridgers’ vocals, Track 7 chronicles the feeling of falling in love with lyrics like “If it isn’t love / Then what the f*ck is it?” The song was originally titled “Paul is Dead” – according to photographs shared by album producer Catherine Marks – in reference to The Beatles conspiracy theory that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a lookalike. Many believe the name is a hint at actor Paul Mescal, Bridgers’ ex-fiancee, as the potential subject of this song.
On their album’s final song, “Letter To An Old Poet,” boygenius creates a full circle moment as they make allusions to their fan-favorite single from their 2018 EP, “Me & My Dog.” The song’s bridge is a mirrored image of the bridge in the original 2018 track, swapping “I wish I was on a spaceship / Just me and my dog and an impossible view” with “I’ll go up to the top of our building / And remember my dog when I see the full moon.” The closing track also interpolates cheers from the band’s 2018 Brooklyn Steel performance of “Me & My Dog,” demonstrating both how far boygenius has come in just five years and how grounded they remain.
This article appeared in the April 6, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.