On Friday, March 31st, boygenius—a musical supergroup composed of indie-rock legends Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus—released their first studio album, the record. While the group had released a self-titled EP in 2018, this album marks an even larger project from boygenius as it encompasses 12 songs and a message that connects them all together: their bond as collaborators and friends. My expectations for this album were extremely high, especially because of the group’s previous works, and yet again boygenius delivered an album that I may never get sick of.
“With You Without Them” displays the most raw, stripped-down version of boygenius on the record and sets the tone of the album with a-capella and simple harmonies. The calming, melancholic chords express not only the band’s journey since their EP but also as individuals. Moreover, they emphasize the history of their parents and ancestors, who have allowed for the creation of boygenius in the first place. As they put it best, “Who would I be without you, without them?”
By far my favorite song on the album in terms of musicianship is “Cool About It.” The track begins with a delightful sequence on the banjo which continues effortlessly throughout the song. While the previous songs on the record have mainly featured just one voice, this song allows for Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus to share the spotlight equally. Altogether, their vocal parts and harmonies blend seamlessly together.
Introduced by electric guitar and drums, “$20” is starkly different from the opening track as the song moves away from folk and into the rock genre. Julien Baker is the first and main vocalist on this piece; the melody is a simple back and forth but the same sequence repeats over and over again, which serves to emulate an anthem of youthful rebellion. Although it is catchy, this song is my least favorite on the album because the pattern is a bit too repetitive for my taste and the cacophonous sounds mixed with screaming at the end of the song leaves the piece feeling unfinished.
“Emily I’m Sorry,” on the other hand, features Phoebe Bridgers as the main vocalist and its overall sound is reminiscent of much of Bridgers’ earlier work, especially her 2020 album Punisher. Due to its simple melody combined with meaningful lyrics, it is the first song on the album that also feels true to the boygenius sound heard in their EP. This song has a slow musical build, parallelling the themes of growing up and making mistakes and serves as an apology to a loved one. The track also seems to reference Bridgers’ solo work specifically with its allusions to sleep and nightmares: “Headed straight for the concrete/In a nightmare screaming/Now I’m wide awake, spiraling/And you don’t want to talk.”
boygenius displays an older, more mature side in the track “True Blue.” The artists themselves have lived more life and are struggling with “grown-up” issues now, but this song shows the resilience of their relationships, despite challenges they may face: “It feels good to be known so well/I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself.” This personal and meaningful chorus represents something stable, long-lasting, and uniquely close-knit, referencing their friendship as a group as they’ve grown up together.
“Not Strong Enough” is the perfect song for a road trip playlist and it very easily gets stuck in your head. Starting off with descriptions of black holes and canyons, the lyricism allows you to be pulled into the minds of the artists in a relationship. The song takes a turn halfway through when the mantra “Always an angel, never a god” is repeated 12 times, to emphasize the notion that while men get to be gods, women are still subjected to being lesser, delicate angels. This is just one place in the album where boygenius makes a social commentary on gender in our society from the point of view of female musicians in the industry, and as women in general. After that, though, the song shifts back its original daydream-esque vibe, in part due to its assortment of contrasting instruments, including guitar, drums, and synth.
Stealing first place for most creative and unhinged lyrics is easily “Revolution O” led by Bridgers, who confesses within the first verse, “I just wanna know who broke your nose/Figure out where they live/So I can kick their teeth in.” As illustrated through this line of desperation and protectiveness, this song is a love letter, but to who exactly? To me, it seems as though Bridgers is appreciating the weird idiosyncrasies of her mind, which ultimately drive Bridgers to make music; simultaneously, she admits some of her most personal and random secrets such as her fear of sickness, but not death. Though I am partial to Bridgers’ music and artistry, this song is a great example of the unique storytelling she is capable of.
“Leonard Cohen”—named after the late Canadian singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist—has a haunting, intimate, tone and lyricism to it. Dacus beautifully sings the chaotic lyrics while allowing them to resemble the song’s main concept of being in awe and disbelief of a good thing, which in this case, is a relationship. Dacus and the rest of the group sing, almost directed towards one another, “I never thought you’d happen to me.”
Shifting to a rock and hard-metal sound, “Satanist” emulates what I believe the elements of a toned-down satanic ritual would include: a bit of rebellion, screaming, and maybe even feedback from an electric guitar. The structure of the song is made up with each member of boygenius asking, “Will you be a satanist/anarchist/nihilist with me?” The song also describes rebellious acts or introspective thoughts with the audience. Towards the end of the song, though, the tempo slows and the voices of all three members are collectively tuned out.
A softer, sweeter piece comes into the scene with “We’re In Love.” As the main vocalist on this song, Dacus is accompanied by the echoed sounds of piano, guitar, and violin. “You could absolutely break my heart/That’s how I know that we’re in love.” The lyrics and chords manage to make this love song into a lesson on not only the value of love, but the inherent pain of it as well.
Baker is the main vocalist on “Anti-Curse,” which explores the themes seen throughout the album and begins to tie everything together. In the outro, Baker sings, “Writin’ the words/To thе worst love song you’ve ever heard/Soundin’ out the foreign characters/An incantation like an anti-curse/Or even a blessing.” Additionally, this song also reminisces on the experiences of growing up and is able to look at adolescence and young adulthood through a larger perspective. While Baker contributes to this album, I am more impressed by what Dacus and Bridgers present in their lyrics and vocal lines to the album as a whole.
Finally, we come to the end of the record with boygenius’ ode to their group and legacy, starting all the way from the beginning of their journey with their self-titled EP. “Letter To An Old Poet” directly mirrors “Me & My Dog” by continuing the same melody, while incorporating new lyrics that reflect the growth of Baker, Dacus, and particularly Bridgers, as people. They take the lessons they’ve learned from life on love and relationships and transform an old song into one with new meaning. While boygenius sang, “I wanna be emaciated” in “Me & My Dog,” the supergroup now sings, “I wanna be happy” in 2022. They also highlight closure when they sing, in unison, “I’ll go up to the top of our building/And remember my dog when I see the full moon.”
This album speaks to me in many different ways, but above all else, I have a newfound appreciation for the journey that the band has been through and their ability to reunite and make beautiful music that takes a thoughtful approach to relationships. Though they may never fully be rid of their teenage angst and existential crises, boygenius looks to the future with wiser eyes and the gratitude of the bond they share with one another.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]