It’s been over four years since Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus teamed up to release the boygenius EP, coming together like singer-songwriter Voltron and leaving an indelible imprint on the indie rock canon. Since then, boygenius have lived on as more of an idea than an entity, a brief-but-beautiful stopover in the careers of three young women. After all, supergroups tend not to resemble constellations but supernovas, burning brightly before fading away.
So when boygenius announced that they’d not only be returning as a band, but delivering a debut full-length album titled the record on Friday, March 31st, there was reason for pause. Why risk diluting all that accumulated goodwill by offering up a release to be scrutinized and compared? Yes, fans have been pleading for new boygenius songs for years, collectively losing their shit whenever Bridgers, Baker, and Dacus would collaborate or play a one-off set. But isn’t that exactly the reason to stave off disappointment and bail on trying to top yourself?
Less confident artists would cower in the face of such expectations, but boygenius revel in them. the record stands as a testament to the trio’s communal self-assuredness, unspooling across 12 tracks that provoke, endear, and devastate.
Recorded in January 2022 at Shangri-La in Malibu, the record came together after Bridgers, Baker, and Dacus, along with co-producer Catherine Marks, put in ten-hour days for a month. The creative process was not a gathering of odds and ends, but an effort to produce a capital-A album, and that sense of intentionality comes across in the track sequencing.
The a cappella “Without You Without Them” opens the record, tethering the project to the folk tradition and hearkening back to the music of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, not to mention The Carter Family. It also posits the record as the work of a trio, rather than a collection of songs by three like-minded-yet-separate musicians.
At the same time, the record covers ample sonic territory and allows the three principals to play to their creative strengths. The next three songs function as a showcase for those strengths, kicking off with “$20.” With its muscular power chords and reverb-drenched instrumental build, the song would not sound out of place on Baker’s 2021 album Little Oblivions, which married her confessional lyricism with bass drums you feel in your chest and layers of distortion. However, it distinguishes itself from that album due to an added boost from Bridgers’ signature primal scream and Dacus’ resonant alto vocals.
“Emily I’m Sorry” is pure Punisher-core, but the echoing vocal melodies place it firmly in the boygenius canon. When Bridgers sings “I’m 27 and I don’t know who I am,” you believe her.
And “True Blue,” an ode to unconditional love, could’ve been a highlight of Dacus’ 2021 album Home Video had it not so perfectly functioned as a thesis statement for the entire boygenius endeavor. “When you don’t know who you are, you fuck around and find out” could be the heraldic motto on the boygenius coat of arms.
As Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus trade main character duties from track to track, a throughline comes into focus: the record is a document of everlasting friendship. These are the stories you tell your friends when you’re heartbroken or enamored, feeling like a speck of dust or ten-feet tall. Many songs nod to road trips — all those hours the three women of boygenius have spent touring — and you feel like you’re riding shotgun, focused not on the past or the future, but on some incandescent present.
“Not Strong Enough” acts as a keystone for the record, its two-lane highway anthem with an ascendant bridge (“always an angel, never a god”) and climactic final chorus. The song navigates duality with nuance and grace, acknowledging the poise and insecurity that simultaneously exists within us all. And on “Satanist,” each member of boygenius gets a verse inviting the listener to engage in a particular ideology — Satanism, anarchy, and nihilism. It is a true head-banger and a middle finger to the entire notion of whatever the hell the “Sad Girl Starter Pack” playlist is supposed to represent. You are not simply listening to an album, but pledging your allegiance to something so much bigger than yourself.
the record also allows for moments of tenderness. On “Revolution 0,” Bridgers pointedly expresses a vow of chivalry: “I just want to know who broke your nose/ Figure out where they live/ So I can kick their teeth in.” The song captivates with its restraint before giving way to luscious orchestration and soaring strings. It’s also the song on the record that probably will yield the highest number of dedicatory tattoos. “We’re In Love” is a Dacus-anchored tearjerker, conveying a romance that unfolds over multiple lifetimes (“In the next one/ Will you find me?/ I’ll be the boy with the pink carnation/ Pinned to my lapel, who looks like hell, and asks for help”).
“Letter to an Old Poet” evokes boygenius standing on stage arm-in-arm beneath some grand proscenium, trading their guitars for twinkling piano and swelling violins. It begins with withering anger (“you’re not special, you’re evil”) before interpolating “Me and My Dog.” Whereas the trio sang, “I want to be emaciated” as the climax to that song from their debut, now they proclaim, “I want to be happy.”
It’s a sign of growth, a full-circle reminder of how far boygenius has come as a musical project and an aspirational expression of faith. While all three women may continue on to even greater heights as individuals, the record offers something so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s a covenant between three soulmates, a trio of best friends ready to carry the torch for a new musical generation.