boygenius’ ‘the record’ is a collaborative triumph

Image courtesy of WFUV Public Radio via Flickr.

The world hasn’t been the same since indie musical artists Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker became the band “boygenius.” Though they had a dedicated fanbase as individuals in their own right and as a group when they released their first EP in 2018,, their popularity has increased dramatically as the three have continued to forge their solo careers. The path leading up to the announcement of their debut album “the record” was buzzing with hype. Fans spotted the three of them getting ready for a photoshoot in Fall 2022. A link to preorder the new album was added to their Instagram seemingly accidentally before it was announced, then swiftly taken down again. “the record” was officially released on March 31, 2023.

A week after its release, “the record” made it to number one on the UK albums chart. Bridgers took to Twitter to highlight the accomplishment, writing simply, “First number one for any of us. This is so cool. We made it for you.” All three of the members are so individually talented, but they shine so brightly as a group. The easy chemistry and camaraderie between them is apparent and is a joy to see.

In the first and shortest track on the album, “Without You Without Them,” the three artists’ voices come together a cappella to give a stripped-down preview of what’s to come in the following songs. And though the magic comes from the collaboration, each artist adds something distinct. “Emily I’m Sorry” has unmistakable Bridgers lyricism as the group takes the listener through an uneasy, emotionally charged moment, singing, “Headed straight for the concrete/ In a nightmare screaming” and “Waking up inside a dream/ Full of screeching tires and fire.” “$20” and “Anti-Curse” are Baker’s signature plaintive rock songs. And “Leonard Cohen” feels like a classic Dacus song, with an emphasis on telling the story of a relationship with unrelenting specificity. I wasn’t sure if I liked the song upon first hearing it, because something about it felt rushed to me, but the ending, where Dacus repeats simply, “I never thought you’d happen to me,” has started to redeem the song for me, and I think I want to keep listening to it.

“Not Strong Enough” is my favorite song on the album. It’s a heartfelt depiction of complex emotions, and it packs a powerful punch. The end of the song, with Dacus taking the lead as the three artists sing, “I don’t know why I am the way I am,” is so beautiful. The music video depicts the trio clearly having a great time hanging out together, which contrasts tonally with the lyrics of the song. I did feel a little confused about the choice to pair this track, which seems to be about a complicated and difficult romantic relationship, with the joyful footage of the video. Though I loved the video itself, it felt like another song from the album might have been more suited to it, like the reassuring ode to deep friendship, “True Blue.”

“Letter To An Old Poet” is a callback to their song “Me and My Dog” from the “boygenius” EP, and it serves as an update to the emotional landscape described in the older piece. Though the melody remains the same at the end, Bridgers leads the group in singing, “I wanna be happy, I’m ready/ To walk into my room without looking for you” instead of  “I wanna be emaciated/ I wanna hear one song without thinking of you.” It’s a mature take on what I imagined must be the same situation and source of inspiration as “Me and My Dog.”Then, the “Letter To An Old Poet” becomes even more devastating as the lyrics “I’ll go up to the top of our building/ And remember my dog when I see the full moon” replace “I wish I was on a spaceship/ Just me and my dog and an impossible view.” 

This album absolutely lived up to the excitement generated in the months before its release. Though the original EP was great, “the record” allows the group to truly showcase the depth and range of their work together.

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