The opening line of boygenius’ ‘the record’ doubles as a thesis statement for the album: “Give me everything you got / I’ll take what I can get / I want to hear your story and be a part of it”. On ‘Without You Without Them’ Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus harmonise a sincere request, their voices taking on complimentary choral tones to create the shape of a timeless Americana folk song: it is haunting, beautiful and piercingly vulnerable. You have to have radically honest to start an album with a song like this, an acknowledgement that you want to be known deeply and meet others at that depth as well, but as ‘the record’ proves, boldness is something boygenius have in droves.
- READ MORE: Boygenius – ‘Boygenius’ EP review
The supergroup began working on ‘the record’ back in 2020, two years after the surprise release of their debut self-titled EP. Since then, the trio have been busy making and touring music of their own, positioning themselves as generation-defining songwriters, picking up Grammy nominations, high-profile collaborations and the respect of their peers along the way. Somehow however, just a week after Bridgers’ critically-acclaimed second album ‘Punisher’ dropped, they found time to flirt with the idea of getting the band together again, sharing demos, asking questions and collapsing their individual songwriting and musical propensities into something new. They are a supergroup worth their salt, and one that take on extra powers when working together.
The opening four songs came from solo writing, but they work as stylish introductions into their distinct styles. Baker brought in the frolicking and erratic ‘$20’, as a means for the band to have “more sick riffs” according to accompanying liner notes. “It’s a bad idea and I’m all about it” she sings amidst a chugging riff before threatening, “when you wake up I’ll be gone again”. When Bridgers and Dacus join in, a wall of emotion and delicate sounds form around Baker’s endeavour.
For Bridgers, it was ‘Emily I’m Sorry’, her slow-burning strumming and repetitive apologies demonstrating proclivity for melancholy love songs. And then, Dacus’ ‘True Blue’ which comes with acute observations on relationships: “When you don’t know who you are / You fuck around and find out” she sings, eventually resolving “It feels good to be known so well / I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself.” Dacus writes with so much emotion it hurts; Bridgers oscillates from cynical to sincere; Baker’s piercing vocals make even the most ironic line feel genuine. Each boygenius may have separate artistic aims, but their talents coalesce to hit you right where it hurts.
Recorded at Malibu’s Shangri-La studios, the trio leveraged 10-hour days and pieced the LP together over a month, taking turns writing lines and making changes, allowing each other’s neurosis and perfectionism to guide the album’s phrasings and sound. The result is some of the most pristine songwriting Bridgers, Dacus and Baker have ever penned. The acoustic ‘Leonard Cohen’ shines a light on the inner workings of their friendship, the cracks that let the light in, in-jokes about “writing horny poetry”. The brash and witty ‘Satanist’ focuses on the limits of unconditional relationships, wondering if nihilism or satanism are deal breakers or would you, as my friend, just join in.
The band shines in the stripped-back moments of ‘the record’, but one of its brightest achievements comes halfway through, in the layering, arrangements and vocals of ‘Not Strong Enough’. It swings in like a typical indie love song at first, but towards the end of the tack, as the trio spirals out the words “always an angel never a god” in unison followed by a heartbreaking, voice crackling “I don’t know why I am / The way that I am”. Masterful stuff.
This debut is a gorgeous testament to what can happen when you allow yourself to fully be seen. Though each of the album’s 12 tracks could have fit nicely on one of their personal records, their work together takes on a brighter bolder existence, enabling them to light up individually and together at the same time. Bridgers, Dacus and Baker did the tedious work of getting to know each other artistically and collaboratively and then poured what they found out into the world. Now, we as listeners, get to benefit.
- Release date: March 31, 2023
- Record label: Interscope Records