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the record - boygenius

The alphabet mafia's favourite unofficial 'sadboi' supergroup, boygenius, is back - with their debut album in tow. Comprised of beloved singer-songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, boygenius certainly have a reputation to live up to - but does the record deserve the hype? Time to don your Dr Martens and miniature beanie, and find out what our writers thought...


A green background, with a digital image of a record in the centre. On the left, there is a picture of boygenius, which covers half of the record. From left to right in the photo is Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers. The sky behind them is blue, and they are all smiling. They each wear black, and look fresh-faced and windswept


Grace M


I once asked my friend, as we were walking back from the cinema, which member of boygenius she identified with most. ‘I’m a Phoebe sun, a Julien moon, and a Lucy rising,’ I told her, entirely unprompted.


‘I think that’s the gayest thing you’ve ever said,’ she replied.


I was extraordinarily pleased.


The first three songs released in the record, the trio’s latest album, were ‘$20’, ‘True Blue’, and ‘Emily I’m Sorry’. Each number is led by a different member: the upbeat, intense song ‘$20’ led by Julien Baker; ‘True Blue’, poised between melancholia and sweetness, introduced by Lucy Dacus; ‘Emily I’m Sorry’, primarily sung by Phoebe Bridgers, a song full of regrets, and an offering for a former lover (“I can feel myself becoming/ someone only you could want”).


In its entirety, the record contains twelve songs, each one displaying the sheer range and talent of the trio. Those looking for something peppy may turn to ‘Satanist’, and will be surprised by the sheer irony in the song’s lyrics. If a listener wishes to hear the slow, bone-crushing experience of depression, reflected in a song, they ought to turn to ‘Revolution 0’. For the lovers: ‘True Blue’. For those who have been turned against it: ‘Cool About It’, or the cynical and humorous ‘Leonard Cohen’ (“I am not an old man having an existential crisis/ At a Buddhist monastery,” they sing).


I am terrified by, and ashamed of, how much I love boygenius. The term ‘parasocial relationship’ is often thrown about online, referring to overzealous fans, those who respond with tears to the dissolution of their favourite celebrities’ relationships. It is not enough to like the music, or the thing the artist creates ---- it never is ---- we must go beyond, to the person, eking out details from their lives in a way that makes the figures more tangible: almost like us, but not quite. I was lucky enough to see one member of boygenius --- Bridgers --- in concert last summer, and, during ‘Punisher’, she covered her face, as if to say: I do not wish to see you. You do not exist to me.


The lyrics in ‘Punisher’ include the cloying mindset of the fan (“what if I told you/I feel like I know you/but we’ve never met”). boygenius’ ‘Bite the Hand’ is the song’s companion piece, and it almost addresses their fans directly, from the other side (“I can’t love you/how you want me to”, they tell us). The line “bite the hand that feeds me” reflects the odd, strange relationship all three are forced to have with the fanbase who have enabled their success.


So much of the language in the record, which might be applied to romantic relationships (“if it isn’t love/ Then what the fuck is it? [ ] Just let me pretend”) may also be applied to the relationship between creator and fan. The tumultuous nature of the second kind of relationship --- listener and singer, performer and audience member --- returns in the final moments of ‘the record’. The last song, ‘Letter To An Old Poet’, repeats the melody of ‘Me & My Dog’: instead of “I wanna be emaciated”, we hear “I wanna be happy”. The song concludes with the strings, and the word “waiting” is underlined by applause. Who is Bridgers “waiting” for? Is it the audience themselves, ushered in at the end of the recording? Or is it her own peace?


The asking of these questions, I must admit, may be another function of my obsession, and I am afraid of receiving the answers.



A collage of three images. From left to right: Julien Baker (playing an electric guitar on stage), Phoebe Bridgers (smiling on stage with a microphone and blue lighting), and Lucy Dacus (playing an electric guitar on stage and looking out towards the crowd).


Wayne


I’ve never listened to the solo or collaborative work of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus or Julien Baker before. Rather embarrassingly, I hadn’t even heard of the last two. So, I didn’t know what to expect when I closeted myself away after a disappointing house viewing on a rainy Friday night.


Supergroups can be messy affairs. Discordant ideas, the execution of which can be derailed by competing egos. Incompatible styles and voices. The need to please each individual’s diehard listeners.


Bridgers, Dacus and Baker clearly don’t give a damn about anyone else’s expectations but their own. Which was a good start. The more I listened, the more I found to like.

I’m notoriously resistant to the notion “you must try this”, especially when it comes to music. Growing up, I swore I’d never say, “you call this music?”. Turning on the radio now, I can feel the words pacing up and down, testing the bars of my brain like a caged animal.

It helps that I can hear familiar, comfortable, influences here. Sheryl Crow, The Bangles, Joni Mitchell, Joan Osborne and – of course – Taylor Swift. I loved how each song was rooted in a strong sense of storytelling. There was a very filmic quality to them. I can imagine True Blue playing over a montage of characters from Dawson’s Creek or The O.C staring wistfully out a window.


Theme-wise, I found it playful yet painful. Invoking feelings and memories we often think are unique to us but are actually universal – particularly when it comes to love and hate. It was introspective and, at times, incredibly intimate. It was delightfully unpredictable, particularly in its execution. There are beautiful ballads that caress the ears and total tunes that chew them off.


Style-wise, I loved how it lurched between barbershop, indie-rock and stripped back acoustic to folk, synths, sweeping strings, and the heavy, grungy, manic, shredding of guitars.

Bridgers, Dacus and Baker complement each other wonderfully. There’s an ease there. An understanding of who to pass the mic to at the end of one song before the start of the next. You just know these 'boys' kill it every karaoke night. The diversions, nods to other artists, and self-referential jokes were fun.


There were moments when they absolutely had me ready to head to the nearest record store – '$20', 'Not Strong Enough', 'Satanist', 'We’re in Love', and 'Anti-Curse'. Other times, not-so-much – 'Revolution 0', 'Letter to An Old Poet', 'True Blue'. At just over 40 minutes, the album doesn’t overstay its welcome either. Something a lot of artists could learn from.


Overall, I enjoyed it enough to seek out boygenius’ first six-song EP. While the record is a massive jump forward, I think I preferred the EP in terms of its rawness. I’d listen to that in its entirety, whereas with the record I’d find myself skipping between tracks.

I’ll definitely be giving Bridgers, Dacus and Baker’s individual discography a listen too. Let’s hope they don’t leave it as long before they get together again.


You can listen to the record on all major streaming platforms.

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