In this dissertation I will…just kidding. Kind of. Readers beware: if you’re looking for an unbiased review of boygenius’—the indie supergroup featuring Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker—newest album The Record, this won’t be it. When this trio released their first EP together in 2018, it (as the kids say) rewired my brain chemistry. The collaboration seemed effortless, and the music was beautiful, morose and honest; each of their styles fit perfectly within each other, as though they had been writing music together for years. Since then, each member of the band—who refer to themselves as “the boys”—has been busier than ever, and boygenius seemingly was shelved. Between Bridgers’ blockbuster, Punisher, Dacus’ critically acclaimed Home Movies, and Baker’s gut-wrenching Little Oblivions, hope for more music from the group was fading. Fans like me caught crumbs from little collaborations on each members’ solo records but were always clamoring for more.
Fast forward to November 2022 when a passerby posted a video on TikTok of the band seemingly on set in L.A. for a photoshoot emulating Nirvana’s Rolling Stone cover. Chaos in the indie community erupted, all based on a shred of hope that boygenuis was about to make their long-awaited return after nearly five years. (Side note: as of today, that 5-second video has 5.3 million views.) Then in January, their comeback was solidified on Coachella’s lineup, followed by three singles off their first-ever full-length LP, aptly titled The Record, and a cover feature in Rolling Stone that was, in fact, inspired by Nirvana. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the music.
The album opens with a harmonic ditty titled “Without You Without Them” that, to me, harkens back to the blessed union of Trio, a.k.a. Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. The lyric “I want you to hear my story/And be a part of it” sets the tone for an earnest, confessional album made in a collective of unconditional trust. Right away, we’re thrown into something more raucous with “$20,” the first of the three songs that were released in January. All of them collectively— “$20,” “Emily I’m Sorry” and “True Blue”—showcase Baker, Bridgers and Dacus at their very best. Baker wails in “$20” with her boys behind her, Bridgers gets extremely personal in “Emily I’m Sorry” and Dacus does what she does best with a visceral portrait of a complex relationship in “True Blue.” Kristen Stewart directed a tryptic of music videos for each song tying each together seamlessly into a short film; it’s a worthwhile watch and celebration of these three queer songwriters.
“Cool About It” is a sneaky standout on The Record, with some of the most gut-wrenching lyrics on the album. The main hook of the song pays tribute to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” and Paul Simon is listed as a writer on the song (dads, you can put your pitchforks away). In particular, the line, “Once I took your medication to know what it’s like/Now I have to act like I can’t read your mind” is delivered by Bridgers with an almost ambivalent matter-of-factness that punches at the core. The midpoint of the album soars with “Not Strong Enough,” which was dropped prior to the album’s release and is one of my personal favorites. Each member lifts one another up with every verse in this song, culminating in a chanting bridge: “Always an angel, never a God.” Dacus really lets it rip in the final post-chorus with some of the strongest vocals she’s delivered to date, consequently sending goosebumps down my spine on every listen.
“Revolution 0” and “Leonard Cohen” both make the exact impact they’re meant to, yet again highlighting the combined power of (arguably) the three best singer-songwriters in the music industry. “Revolution 0” is a melancholy lullaby for sufferers of existential dread that feels like a continuation of Bridgers’ Punisher, with some sonic likeness to “Moon Song” on that album. Thankfully, “Leonard Cohen” is a humorous antidote about a road trip gone awry when the driver insists on playing Leonard Cohen in the car. The lyric, “Leonard Cohen once said, ‘There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in/’And I am not an old man having an existential crisis/At a Buddhist monastery writing horny poetry/But I agree” is easily a top five on The Record. If you’ve seen any of the press interviews boygenius has done to promote the album, or even just follow them on Instagram, their penchant for dark humor is one of the strongest threads in their friendship, so it’s fun to see it materialize in song.
The song with the biggest payoff is easily “Satanist,” a harder, rock-forward song led by Baker that challenges all notions of organized society. Baker opens her verse with “Will you be a satanist with me,” Bridgers comes in with “Will you be an anarchist with me,” and Dacus rounds the song out with “Will you be a nihilist with me,” all of which are choices characteristic of each. The breakdown around the three-minute mark creates an uneasy, yet delicious, tension where all three voices combine to beckon you to the dark side. On “We’re in Love,” Dacus takes the reigns and, in her classic conversational songwriting, breaks listeners’ hearts when describing the end of a relationship.
If I absolutely had to choose a least favorite song, it would probably be “Anti-Curse,” but even then, that’s like comparing mid-priced caviar with the expensive stuff. At the end of the day, it’s still caviar. The Record concludes with “Letter To An Old Poet,” which starts out as a Bridgers-led song about an emotionally exhausting breakup. The three-part harmonies culminate in a sonic and lyrical callback to “Me and My Dog,” off the original boygenius EP. Here, they swap “I wanna be emaciated” for “I wanna be happy,” which elicited a gasp from me on the first listen. The song continues along the path of “Me and My Dog” with the line, “I’ll go up to the top of our building/And remember my dog when I see the full moon,” which references Bridgers’ fan-beloved dog, Max, who passed away in between projects. It’s a perfect, yet devastating, end to an album only these three songwriters could create.
It truly cannot be overstated how significant it is that boygenius has created such a mind-blowing work out of love, friendship and honesty. So often, we hear of great music that’s made in spite of the band’s volatile relationships, from Fleetwood Mac, to Crosby, Stills & Nash, and many in their wake. Baker, Bridgers and Dacus prove that spaces in this industry can be created based on collaboration, rather than competition.
Even more so, boygenius is a beacon of feminism and queerness within the indie-music space, which frankly, has been largely dominated by hetero white guys for the past 30+ years. Each member of this band is made better by one another, making their riffs stronger and heightening their shared emotions. For a collection of what could be considered “sad songs,” there’s no denying the underlying joy felt throughout The Record. If anything, it speaks as a document of boygenius’ love story with each other, rather than with anyone else. Anyway, thanks for coming to my TED talk.