Boygenius – The Record
Creating art can be an incredibly intense and personal process. An artist always leaves a piece of themselves in everything they create, and often the deeper within you delve for that piece of your soul, the more profound the resulting creation. The thought of sharing the final product with the world at the end of all that is a scary prospect, but even more so is the idea of someone being privy to the process of making it. Letting someone else interfere with the intimacy of songwriting, helping draw out your thoughts as you put lyrics to paper, bearing witness to all the mistakes you make along the way that would normally pass unnoticed. If it’s any consolation, you get a peek behind the curtain in turn, as they reveal more of themselves with everything they contribute, and the whole thing becomes a group therapy session. If making something involves giving a piece of yourself, collaboration becomes several people offering up a piece of themselves and finding a way for them to fit together.
But what if the pieces don’t fit? What if you offer up part of your soul to someone and they simply don’t like what they see? Great collaboration requires more than just shared musical sensibilities, it needs patience, empathy, compassion, love. I think that’s why most supergroups tend to implode before too long; they may be a perfect match musically, but they just don’t gel as people. While there’s always been a fair bit of overlap between the musical output and fanbases of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, that’s not what formed Boygenius, and nor is it what makes this trio the most compelling supergroup of recent years.
Boygenius was born from a burgeoning friendship, three artists being there for each other’s respective big-breaks, and it thrives now because that friendship has only grown deeper and more meaningful in the intervening years. The magic behind the project is best summed up in the chorus of ‘True Blue’; “it feels good to be known so well, I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself, I remember who I am when I’m with you“. Being understanding of each other’s failings, acting as a voice for positivity to counter that inner critic, being patient and supportive for every struggle, and subconsciously pushing you to become the best version of yourself. That’s what makes a great collaboration, that’s what makes a great friendship, and it’s what makes The Record truly shine.
The Record offers glimpses of each member of the indie triumvirate at their best. Phoebe’s contributions are the most understated, with tracks like ‘Emily I’m Sorry’ and ‘Revolution 0’ providing fertile ground for her soft hazy vocals to flourish. Although she does occasionally come out of her shell, belting out at the top of her lungs at the close of ‘$20’. Lucy delivers the full range of her artistry’s heart and passion. The moments where she takes centre stage are always overflowing with feeling, whether it’s the austere tenderness of ‘We’re In Love’ or the soaring sucker-punch climax of album highlight ‘Not Strong Enough’. But I have to say it’s Julien who shines brightest on the band’s debut LP. The rough-around-the-edges alt rock elements she introduced to her sound on Little Oblivions felt at the time like a stepping stone towards bigger things, and here those ambitions feel fully realised. ‘$20’ devolves from a steady chug to chaotic cascade, ‘Satanist’ grapples with grungy riffs before crashing headlong into dream pop territory punctuated with expressive bass lines, while expansive slow-burner ‘Anti-Curse’ delivers more of her trademark gut-wrenching lyricism (“Salt in my lungs, Holdin’ my breath, Makin’ peace with my inevitable death“).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s in the moments where the three of them all come together that we get to hear something greater than the sum of its parts. You hear it in the mellow Simon & Garfunkel-esque folk of ‘Cool About It’ as the trio trade verses, and especially so in the sublime closer ‘Letter To An Old Poet’ and how it calls back to ‘Me & My Dog’. The briefest pause after the line “I wanna be…” lining up perfectly with the beat your heart skips, as your thoughts go rushing back to that flawless gem from their debut EP. The band truly outdo themselves however on album highlight, and standout song of the year, ‘Not Strong Enough‘. From its bright shimmering synths and expressive rhythm section, to the bewitching way the bridge builds upon each repeated refrain of “always an angel, never a god“, I simply can’t sing its praises enough. Each member gets chance to deliver tattoo worthy one liners, and stamps their own identity and artistry on their respective verses.
Admittedly, it would have been nice if moments like that were the norm rather than the exception. The Record lacks the cohesion of their debut EP, and spends more of its runtime touching on each members solo work, rather than building something new and unique. Most tracks feel like something one member brought to the table for the others to add to, rather than something built from the ground up together as a group. If this captivating collaboration ever releases a follow up, I would want it to be less Phoebe, Lucy, & Julien and more… Boygenius. But really, if the worst critique you can throw at an album is “it sounds too much like a compilation of these three acclaimed songwriters!”, then I think you’re in the clear. Here’s hoping this is the first of many records forged by this friendship, as they really do bring out the best in each other.