Not many joint tours spawn supergroups, but that’s how Boygenius – the new collaboration between indie stars Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker – came to be. The trio are due to head out on the road together in the US next month and, after the dates were locked in, they began talking about singing something together at the end of each show. From there, they wrote a couple of songs, and then a few more.
The resulting EP, as you’d probably expect from three such well-regarded names of alternative music, is extraordinary. In part, it serves as a reminder of each musician’s particular powers – Bridgers’ ability to spin haunting, poetic folk-pop out of beautiful simplicity; Dacus’ sage and, often, wry indie-rock; and Baker’s dramatic, emo-tinged exorcisms of emotion. Its other side shows the prowess that comes from combining the three.
For Boygenius’ first project, each of the trio brought one finished song and one idea to work on togethe. ‘Bite The Hand’, Dacus’ completed track, opens things and details her feelings on the complicated relationship between fan and artist. Throughout, the group echo “I can’t love you like you want me to“, usually with a hint of apology or sorrow. The last time around, that changes – the crunching, chiming guitars and thudding drums cut out and their voices are left in isolation, taking on a new defiance as they repeat their mantra in unison once more.
On ‘Me & My Dog’, Bridgers nails the sad frustration of not being able to get an ex off your mind, deploying breath-taking lyric after breath-taking lyric as she does so. “I had a fever until I met you,” she recalls with a sigh early on. Later, she cries, “I wish I was emaciated“, before lowering her voice to something more resigned. “I wanna hear one song without thinking of you,” she continues. “I wish I was on a spaceship / Just me and my dog, and an impossible view.”
In truth, Boygenius’ lyrics are so strong, you could close your eyes and skip to any point of any song and find yourself being wowed in one way or another. Baker’s ‘Stay Down’ is another embarrassment of riches, whether it’s her describing a dissociative feeling as being “In the back seat of my body / I’m just steering my life in the video game” or using religious imagery to add even more gravitas to the track (“Push me down into the water like a sinner / Hold me under and I’ll never come up again“).
A hallmark of the EP is its songs similar tendency to start small and subtle before growing into surging, swelling breakers. ‘Souvenir’, one of the songs fleshed out together, opens with Baker singing “Dreamcatcher in the rearview mirror / Hasn’t caught a thing in years” over gentle bass hums and pretty acoustic guitar. It’s the woman’s voices that elevates things this time – a crescendo of harmonised ‘oohs’ layering upon each other. ‘Salt In The Wound’, a song about being taken advantage of, lets walls of guitars and stadium-sized drums do the heavy lifting, and by end of ‘Me & My Dog’, Bridgers has gone from sketched chords to sounding like she’s being transported away from her past on the back of an almighty fireball.
‘Boygenius’ would be astonishing regardless of the length of time it took to make, but it becomes even more so when you learn these songs were created in a matter of days. Nowhere is that truer than on closing track ‘Ketchum, ID’, which Bridgers initially brought to Dacus and Baker as a rough idea that she didn’t think would become much. 20 minutes later they had fashioned it into its current form – a stunning, sombre ode to the loneliness of spending your life on the road. “I am never anywhere / Anywhere I go,” they sing in unison, referencing that oft-cited pitfall of touring of getting to travel the world, but only ever seeing the inside of venues and hotel rooms.
Backed by just a finger-picked acoustic guitar, it sounds like its being sung as the women drive down a quiet road in middle-of-nowhere America on their way to the next set of walls and doors. In the song’s final seconds, the guitar softens further, their soaring voices drawing out the final line until it cuts off abruptly midway, reinforcing that sense of brevity. It’s a notion that works on more than one level, too; much like its creators’ time in any one place, ‘Boygenius’ is all too fleeting, a record that leaves you yearning for more.