Love, in all of its most intricate and reverent forms, is the lifeblood of boygenius.
The three songwriters of the indie-rock supergroup — Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus — share a singularly devoted bond. When describing the songwriting process of their self-titled 2018 EP, Bridgers even said in a Rolling Stone profile earlier this year, “it was not like falling in love. It was falling in love.”
The widely-anticipated debut album from boygenius, “The Record,” deepens this constancy with harrowing, handcrafted honesty. Released March 31, the band’s latest project pulses with multivalent manifestations of love — friendships, relationships, kinship and even musicianship.
The lyrical themes and instrumental soundscapes explored by boygenius are cyclical in nature; emotions and memories are reexamined through new perspectives and musical motifs. It’s a transcendent, almost generational approach to songcraft, a method exemplified in album opener “Without You Without Them.” The ditty picks up where the EP closer “Ketchum, ID” left off — in folksy, a capella reverie.
“I want to hear your story/ And be a part of it,” Dacus professes, reflecting on how one’s sense of identity can be inconceivably transformed through cherished connections with others. Cradled by her swooning vocals, the track entrenches the opening moments of “The Record” in a celebration of interconnectedness and inheritance that extends throughout its entirety.
A wealth of shared experiences — both artistic and personal — intertwine to create the spine of boygenius’ collective narrative. The dynamic “Anti-Curse,” for instance, draws inspiration from Baker’s near-drowning encounter with too-high tides during the band’s songwriting trip in Malibu.
Elsewhere, the first verse of “Leonard Cohen” affectionately details the trio’s road trip in Northern California, during which Bridgers accidentally missed their exit while listening to one of her favorite songs. “I never thought you’d happen to me,” Dacus admits as the track comes to an end, the line repeated seconds later by all three members. It’s revelations like these, whispered with a tenderness held only between the most intimate of companions, that pull listeners into the steadfast intimacy of “The Record.”
This being said, the album isn’t afraid to unravel even the most painful and heartbreaking of relationships. “If it isn’t love/ Then what the f—is it?” Bridgers asks in “Revolution 0,” her frustrated fatigue almost at wistful odds with the strum of a winding acoustic guitar. Meanwhile, album highlight “Cool About It” grapples with the anxieties and agonies associated with running into an ex. Enhanced by a folksy melody that interpolates Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” the track delicately navigates conflict with candor over three verses sung by Dacus, Baker and Bridgers, respectively.
“The Record” also remembers to pay homage to the distinctive artistic roots of each boygenius member, a feat exemplified in its trio of lead singles: “$20,” “Emily I’m Sorry” and “True Blue.” Amid punk-inspired guitar riffs and erratic harmonies, Baker shines through on “$20,” where she sings about running “out of gas, out of time, out of money.” The following track spotlights Bridgers’ tendency toward subdued yet slow-burning sorrow, while the Dacus-led “True Blue” boasts the artist’s trademark piercing vocals and confessional lyricism.
This is the beauty of boygenius. Though each artist has instances of individual brilliance, it’s their ability to meld together in enthralling unison that imbues the album with undeniable strength and spirit.
The bridge of “Not Strong Enough” is a testament to this sense of togetherness. Accompanied by crescendoing instrumentals, the trio takes turns repeating the refrain “Always an angel, never a god,” each inflecting the lyrics with their own textured emotion. Their layered vocals echo each other — not in contradiction, but in powerful solidarity.
“Letter To An Old Poet,” the album’s finale, provides listeners with a lasting impression of the band members’ all-encompassing vulnerability, an openness only revealed in the safe space they cultivate together. Over trickling piano notes and traces of string instrumentals, the track re-envisions the heartache of “Me & My Dog” — from the “boygenius” EP — through a lens of hope and healing. “I can’t feel it yet/ But I am waiting,” Bridgers leads the last lines of the album, supported by Dacus and Baker. Melancholic yet self-assured anticipation descends on the album’s final moments.
“The Record” is more than a promise of admiration or affection. Forged in friendship and faith, it’s a pact between Baker, Bridgers and Dacus. Ultimately, the album is a diaristic meeting of mind, heart and soul — and every minute is utterly genius.