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Album review: Indie supergroup boygenius’ debut album highlights members’ strengths, friendship

A hand from each member of boygenius reachers towards the sky on the cover of the band’s debut album, “the record.” The indie rock supergroup, comprising Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, released its debut album Friday. (Courtesy of Interscope Records)

“the record”

boygenius

Interscope Records

Mar. 31

By Graciana Paxton

March 31, 2023 9:15 p.m.

This post was last updated April 2 at 9:24 p.m.

Boygenius translates tales of true blue companionship into effortlessly cool indie rock on “the record.”

On Friday, the indie-folk band – made up of established artists Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus – released its debut album, “the record.” Five years after their self-titled EP, the three artists both literally and figuratively exude harmony on “the record” through dreamlike vocal blends and their ability to harness and highlight each member’s strengths. The shared brilliance of the three songwriters ensures boygenius’ sonic ode to the depths of friendship is a narrative triumph.

Even amid moving vulnerability and nihilistic pondering, the 12-track record still radiates warmth – an effect fueled by earnest lyricism. Similarly to the band’s six-track 2018 EP, tracks on “the record” feel raw and lived-in, as if they were passed down like proper folk songs. Yet with the extended, 12-track nature of “the record,” the supergroup finds space to ooze stylistic duality by producing upbeat, alt-rock anthems alongside emotional indie-folk ballads.

Appropriately so, boygenius opts for a stripped down a capella opener with “Without You Without Them,” where the three voices elegantly harmonize a traditional-sounding folk melody. With each verse, the band reflects upon the group’s past and present with passion and gratitude as they recount their familial origins and yearn to reach a level of closeness where each other’s “history’s no mystery” – a quest representative of the emotional intimacy boygenius seeks to reach not only with each other, but with its listeners as well throughout “the record.”

[Related: Album review: Kali Uchis delivers luscious romance in ‘Red Moon in Venus’ despite repetitiveness]

The band follows up with the more energetic “$20,” where Baker’s trademark grunge-tinged vocals take the lead, a fitting pairing with the track’s crashing, bass-filled instrumentals. Supplemented by backing vocals from Dacus and Bridgers and stylistic, uncontrolled belting from the latter during the track’s outro, the result is an electrifying, angsty track.

In a similar fashion, Bridgers takes the reins both stylistically and vocally on the slowed, remorseful “Emily I’m Sorry,” whereas Dacus owns “True Blue.” In the case of the former, echoing vocal effects and layered production reminiscent of Bridgers’ solo discography leave it feeling like a forgotten remnant of Bridgers’ sophomore album, “Punisher,” rather than a fresh collaboration. As such, one can’t help but harshly evaluate it against the rest of Bridgers’ individual discography, making it a less memorable portion of “the record.”

But with its raw, sensitive lyrics, the track still provides a final emotional punch as the trio warmly harmonizes, “I’m twenty seven and I don’t know who I am/But I know what I want” just before its outro seamlessly blends into “True Blue.” Alongside well-paced drums, Dacus’ velvety vocals exalt “tried and true blue” love through vivid lyrical storytelling, allowing the band to mine golden emotional authenticity from the seemingly cliche phrase.

As Dacus, Baker and Bridgers alternate lead vocals across tracks, each member’s sonic fingerprints and signature solo styles often correspondingly swap dominance. However, each artist’s time in the front seat never feels lopsided or like a competitive power-grab – a far cry from age-old tales of rock bands at civil war over hunger for the spotlight. Instead, the band utilizes solo moments to adequately elevate each artist’s strengths while also ensuring all members are vocally involved in each track. There are no egos, no frontmen – only boygenius.

And while this commitment to granting each member their time to shine is effective and charmingly supplements the album’s overall ode to friendship, “Cool About It” – where the three evenly swap lyrics alongside the backdrop of enchanting, simple string melodies – is representative of boygenius at its best. Opening with the pure crooning of Baker, each member takes a verse as they recount experiences of reuniting with a past love with wit and sincerity. The track’s finale marries the three voices as Dacus and Baker harmonize behind Bridgers’ belting of “I’ll pretend being with you doesn’t feel like drowning” – showcasing the band’s ability to reach new emotional and sonic heights on tracks where each member has equal footing.

However, emotional, folk-style odes aren’t the only way to crack the code, with the group finding a similar balance on “Not Strong Enough.” Amid its exuberant feel, the band tackles self-doubt in the track’s chorus of “Not strong enough to be your man/I lied, I am/Just lowering your expectations,” a clever response to Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough.” Vibrant drumming patterns and high energy guitar supplement the addictive alternative anthem before finally breaking loose as Dacus steadily repeats the bridge of “Always an angel, never a god.” Bridgers and Baker take turns leading the lyric as well, steadily reminding listeners that the layered, sonic signature of boygenius is the sum of its talented parts.

“Anti-Curse” replicates this same euphoric rock sound, but with darker, more nuanced lyrics and heavier production, as Baker nostalgically recounts her flaws and life history while swept up in a high tide. With the instrumental bliss of tracks like “Anti-Curse” and “Not Strong Enough,” boygenius unlocks a kind of electrifying, blissful rock that the solo careers of Baker, Dacus and Bridgers often only scratch the surface of. However, that is not to say “the record” doesn’t reach the emotional depth of each artist’s individual discography, with cutting lyrics in tracks like “We’re in Love” and “Revolution 0” more than proving otherwise.

[Related: Album review: Weyes Blood transports listeners to a world of ethereal loneliness in new album]

While in the whimsical “Revolution 0,” Bridgers vulnerably warbles of a budding romantic love, “We’re in Love” instead serves as a love letter to the trio’s companionship. A subtle, elegant piano ballad backs Dacus’ lofty vocals as she earnestly asks, “If you rewrite your life, may I still play a part?” and “In the next one, will you find me?” before listing out the traits and memories she’d use to find her friends and bandmates in the next life alongside sneakily embedded references to Elliott Smith and Taylor Swift. From Dacus’ fragility to the role of three friends’ deep connection in shaping the rest of “the record,” the track serves as the album’s beating heart.

Equally if not more impactful is “Letter To An Old Poet” – the finale of “the record.” Beginning with scattered piano, Bridgers delicately recounts a toxic, complicated love. However, the backing shifts away from its somber nature by picking up pace as it reaches the track’s climax, which inventively interpolates the band’s 2018 track “Me & My Dog.” While structurally the same, fresh lyrics and the thrilling pairing of distorted sirens and sharp violins alongside the initial backing of “Letter To An Old Poet” establish a more cinematic feel, achieving a more potent emotional impact than its original reference.

After Bridgers shows grace and love not only for her friends but toward herself as she acknowledges that she deserves better, a warped sample of a cheering crowd from the group’s 2018 live performance at Brooklyn Steel energizes the outro, resulting in a track that is tragically vulnerable yet still brimming with hope – a triumph representative of the collective strengths of “the record” and boygenius itself.

And with such sonic and emotional mastery, the longevity of boygenius is more than strong enough to last beyond the next life.

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Graciana Paxton | Music | fine arts editor
Paxton is the 2022-2023 music | fine arts editor. She was previously an Arts contributor from 2021-2022. She is also a third-year psychobiology student from Morgan Hill, California.
Paxton is the 2022-2023 music | fine arts editor. She was previously an Arts contributor from 2021-2022. She is also a third-year psychobiology student from Morgan Hill, California.
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