Photo by: Boygenius
The Record is the deceptively simple sounding debut album from indie-rock supergroup boygenius.
The Record blends genres and styles in a way that feels effortless. The lyricisim is deeply referential, making allusions to the band’s previous work, and to artists that have influenced them. Together the boys (Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers) become more than the sum of their parts, they become boygenus.
When the new project was announced, it had been nearly five years since the band had released new music together after the release of a six song EP in 2018. Despite not being a full length album, the self-titled boygenius was NPR’s 12th best album of the year. There was no dramatic breakup, nor were there any irreconcilable artistic differences that kept the group from making new music together; it was just quiet as the three remained close friends. Each has had a successful solo career, with Bridger garnering the most name recognition after receiving four Grammy nominations in 2020.
The roughness and rawness of the first project still exists on The Record, but it’s also apparent that each artist has grown into her own since 2018; Bridgers, Baker and Dacus have all released solo work since 2018. Despite this, the album feels more cohesive and mature than the previous EP.
None of the songs feel like just a Julien Baker song, or just a Phoebe Bridgers song or just a Lucy Dacus song, they’re all distinctly boygenius. $20, released before the full album, is a true collaboration of every single strength that Bridgers, Baker and Dacus bring to the table. Baker’s voice, which sometimes contradicts itself as equal parts gruff and sweet, seems to be the star of the show at first.
Dacus and Bridgers sing backup, and for the first few lines, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a song off of her last solo album. Then Dacus comes in with a harmony as Baker sings, “in another life we were arsonists.” The powerful nostalgia of Dacus’ writing, the sense of wanting to run away that she seems to be able to convey with just a lilt of her crooning voice, hits the listener like a tonne of bricks. The closest thing the song has to a chorus is when all three repeat, “May I please have 20 dollars? Can you give me 20 dollars? I know you have 20 dollars?” A powerful wail comes from Bridgers, it’s the kind of power that she’s become known for.
Every song on the album follows a similar pattern; one boy seems to take the lead, and then another comes in with a detail that is so quintessentially theirs that the song couldn’t be mistaken as anything other than a boygenius song. A pink carnation motif that serves as an Elliott Smith reference on “We’re in Love,” bears all the hallmarks of a Phoebe Bridgers re-write on a song that otherwise screams Lucy Dacus.
Songs like “$20” and Satanist have a distinct rock n’roll vibe, while We’re in Love and “Leonard Cohen” go a little bit softer
The lyrics sound simple on the surface, just recounting stories and feelings set to music. Like with all good art, digging a little deeper reveals a rich assortment of metaphors and symbolism. A lyric that might seem trite (“you say you’re a winter bitch, but summer’s in your blood) contributes to the overall theme of the album; a soft sense of love and acceptance, and a fierce love for each other.
They blur the lines between platonic and romantic love; the accompanying music video for the three lead singles features all three friends passionately making out with one another. Singing love songs about your best friends with the same verve you’d sing about a romantic partner with eels distinctly queer.
It’s hard to pull off an album that is, in part, about how much the members of a band love being in the band with each other, but boygenius has always seemed to pull it off without breaking a sweat.
Bridgers, Baker and Dacus are the kind of artist that often get lumped into the “sadgirl” archetype. This is something that all three. Have expressed frustration with. There’s are double standards that exist in every genre of music, in indie rock, the application of the “sadgirl” label is one of the biggest. Nobody would call The Smiths or Bright Eyes “sadboy music.” Boygenius doesn’t directly address this in their lyrics, but the repeated “always an angel, never a god,” that the three members repeat at the end of “Not Strong Enough” is a rallying cry for anyone who’s tired of being put into a different category just because they’re not boys.
In the photos published for Rolling Stone, the band emulates a photoshoot done by Nirvana for the same magazine years ago. The poses are the same, the outfits are the same, the only difference is the band. It’s a tribute to the indie rockers who’ve come before, but it’s also a visual statement; they’re the same kind of artist as the indie rockers who’ve come before. They call each other boys both as a reference to the band name, and as a celebration of queerness, but also because they can, because they’re not different from a band made up entirely of boys. The music is still well written and it feels real and true and meaningful. The fact that the music was written by three queer women might define the themes of the music, but it doesn’t define the genre or the quality.
The final song on The Record “Letter to an Old Poet,” makes reference to the final song on boygenius; “me and my dog.”
The emotional climax of “me and my dog” begins with all three singers belting, “I wanna be emaciated.” It’s a line that demands to be screamed, whether you’re hearing it live and in concert, or in your bedroom alone. It’s also a direct reference to anorexia and the emotional throughline of boygenius. While the first album was about self-sabotage and wallowing in sadness. The Record is about loving and being loved in spite of whatever isolationist tendencies might have come in your darkest moments.
The emotional climax of “Letter to an Old Poet” begins with all three singers belting, “I wanna be-” and then just when anyone who’s heard “me and my dog” would start gearing up for the old lyric, they softly and gently finish the line off with “happy.”
The album subverts expectations at every turn. No song is ever going exactly where you think it is, and that’s part of what makes it brilliant.