Writing in this column in 2018, I had stuck my neck out and termed the trio, boygenius (they stylise their name in lower case as boygenius), an all-woman supergroup—you know, the kind of band that is made up of musicians who have successful main careers as solo artists or as part of established bands that have made it. At the time, boygenius had released a six-song extended play (EP) album that had wowed everybody. Each of the three American singer-songwriter members of the group, Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, then not yet in their mid-20s, had already begun noteworthy solo careers with albums that had won critical acclaim.
The three were also friends who loved each other’s music and had occasionally played together on gigs and tours. On a lark, they decided to record together. Each of them brought a completed song and an incomplete one that they could finish together—that is how the EP was born. The EP’s success was overwhelming—among fans of each of the three as well as for the musicians themselves. Critics lauded the effort. In my column, I had hinted that this could be the birth of a new supergroup.
Then there was radio silence. Bridgers, Dacus and Baker went back to their solo careers and tasted greater success, releasing new albums, winning more plaudits and establishing themselves among contemporary rock’s most notable new artists.
I must admit that I felt a bit sheepish. Was the EP, eponymously titled boygenius, just a flash in the pan? Was the hope of seeing them emerge as a supergroup just a pipe dream?
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It took a little less than five years to get an answer. Early this year, boygenius announced that they would come out with a full-length album and released three songs from it: Emily I’m Sorry, $20 and True Blue. At the end of March came the full album, simply titled the record. It has nine songs that showcase the trio’s individual talents as well as their ability to work together as a band, complementing each other. For Bridgers, 28, Dacus, 27, and Baker, 27, are today all indie singer-songwriter stars.
the record begins with an a capella song which establishes the distinct voices of each singer, but, at the same time, seems perfectly in sync, as if the emotions are emanating from one heart and soul.
The first track, Without You Without Them, sets the tone for the album—the group has evolved. Though the 2018 EP is a great album, Dacus, Baker and Bridgers came across as distinct voices on each of their songs. On the record, they sound like a band that blends and fits together perfectly, and, yet, showcases each’s unique abilities as a singer and songwriter.
Besides their distinct vocal styles, what makes boygenius stand out are the lyrics. Bridgers’ Emily I’m Sorry is a sad, spare, intense song which opens with the verse: She’s asleep in the backseat/ Looking peaceful enough to me/ But she’s waking up inside a dream/ Full of screeching tires and fire/ We’re coming back from where no one lives/ Pretty much just veterans.
Baker’s $20 is an up-tempo rocker with a deeper guitar riff and vocals by the three that are like layers over each other.
The Dacus song True Blue is about deep and unconditional love: Now you’re movin’ in/ Breakin’ a sweat on your upper lip/ And gettin’ pissed about humidity/ And the leaky faucet/ You already hurt my feelings three times/ In the way only you could.
boygenius’ full-length happened in an interesting way. Although they went back to focusing on their solo careers after the EP in 2018, they remained friends, bonding over books and each other’s music. In 2020, soon after the release of Punisher, Bridgers’ second solo album, she mailed a song she had been working on to Dacus and Baker, suggesting that they should make music together again.
That spurred them to start working on songs and put them on a shared Google Drive. Later, the three would hire a studio in Malibu and work 10 hours a day for a month to create the record.
As soon as it was released, the trio’s debut full-length was acclaimed by critics, including the pickiest of them, as a kind of instant classic—but that could also be because of the tidal wave of hype that had surrounded the project ever since it was announced in January.
The trio’s full-length tries to live up to the hype. The songs, which demand repeated play, include dreamy, introspective ones; noisy punk-influenced ones; angry ones; and sad ones. There is even one titled Leonard Cohen, which isn’t about him but does reference him: 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.
Given the fame of its creators, the record will be analysed, reviewed and commented upon ad nauseam. Already, there are interviews galore with the trio—in one of them, the editor of a snobbish American music magazine has a giggly conversation with the band focused mainly on zodiac signs.
What makes boygenius stand out, though, is the fact that three young and talented musicians with their solo careers on the ascendant decided to come together on a project where, instead of showboating their own skills, they complement each other.
First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.
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