Brought back to life for the fist time since their 2018 EP as all three of its members continue to gain in popularity, indie-folk trio boygenius – comprised of Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers, who achieved the most meteoric rise to fame of the three of them – finally give the fans what they want and return with a record simply and appropriately titled the record. With clear understanding of where the strengths of the three vocalists lie, many of the tracks here find one of the three taking charge as the others supply some backing vocals that are oddly heavenly for a project containing a song titled “Satanist.” One of the project’s greatest strengths is the slight changes made to the instrumental and overall vibe to allow each of the three to shine in their own way. Many of the lyrics here can be equal parts blunt and poetic, tackling the crumbling world and the systems that make it up as well as friendships and partnerships as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, to which all three of the band members belong. With lyrical nods to Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen, these three are making a case to be immortalized in that folk pantheon.
The project opens with the brief a cappella moment that is “Without You Without Them,” which finds the band throwing on a vintage-sounding filter to make it sound like a recording from the 1930s being played on a gramophone. Immediately demonstrating just how naturally the three fit together, it’s fun to hear them construct barbershop-style harmonies one at a time. The project immediately throws listeners into “$20,” one of the more indie-rock influenced tracks on the project that finds the trio’s expert in the area, Julien Baker, take lead vocals. It feels like the thing that is suppressed and watered down most when these three artists try to find equilibrium is Baker’s heavier side – the instrumental is a little more standard, and something about hearing Dacus’ borderline-operatic vibrato harmonizing in the background makes things not feel quite right – but she certainly manages to stand out on other tracks later on. Still, the track’s outro is a great moment as the three singers build on top of each other with overlapping parts, culminating in some frenzied screams from Bridgers. “Emily I’m Sorry” is Bridgers’ turn to step into the spotlight, and makes it clear why she’s the chosen one. There’s something in her intense, whispery delivery that feels so undeniably raw, especially as she channels resentment and regret through the most delicate of tones that shit have the potential to explode with fury at any moment. The chorus contains some of the most heart-stopping stack harmonies on the album, while the slow build of percussion locks in one of the more memorable melodies as Bridgers wistfully looks back on a past relationship.
The track “True Blue” feels like what might have happened if the story of Bridgers’ flighty protagonist trying to find herself in the previous song actually had done it. A tale of a better love and the joy of sinking further into the comforts of having someone who knows you better than you know yourself, Lucy Dacus takes centre stage on this one and offers some vivid lines about the deepening connection. With a bright indie-rock drive and synth keyboard solos in the back, it’s probably the happiest song Bridgers has ever been a part of. “Cool About It” is the first track that sees all three singers take a verse, and takes inspiration from the Simon & Garfunkel catalogue to spin a touching tale of keeping feelings inside and communication issues leading to a romantic downfall. Set to little more than plucked acoustic chords, simply the way the chorus is structured, switching up the rhyme schemes before “about it” each time, already makes it stick in your brain, ready for concert singalongs. It’s one of the moments where they truly flex their singer-songwriter muscles the hardest. “Not Strong Enough” is another standout track with infectious melodies that introduces two elements that appear a couple more times on the album. Addressing misogynistic stereotypes, the group begin to play with gender roles as they assert their ability to demonstrate the trademark strength expected of being someone’s “man.” The members have also been outspoken about questioning their religious upbringing, which makes the imagery of gods and revelations they cheekily sprinkle throughout all the more effective as well.
Once again in true Phoebe Bridgers fashion, her next lead vocal on “Revolution 0” begins with a sweet ode to Elliott Smith, the imaginary friend and muse in her head motivating her to pursue music, before she suddenly offers violent threats towards those who would hurt him and moves into more hushed tones about pushing through deep depression to follow her calling. This is where the blunt lyrics are sometimes as much of a knockout punch as the flowery ones – “Wish I wasn’t so tired, but I’m tired” hits just as hard as any of the band’s clever allusions to Ecclesiastes and the like. “Leonard Cohen” doesn’t hit the two-minute mark, but it’s a necessary addition to the tracklist. Apparently detailing the real story of Bridgers causing the band to miss an important exit on a road trip because she needed them to pay attention to a song that was important for her, it makes the proceedings all the more enjoyable to hear a wholesome track that finds the three celebrating each other’s friendship. “Satanist” revs the engines back up with crunchy, almost Weezer-esque chords and provocative lyricism as each artist invites the listeners in their own way to join them in dismantling the systems of our world. Bridgers wants to kill the bourgeoisie, Dacus just found a new favourite movie character in Jobu Tupaki, Baker is worshipping the dark lord, and it’s a lot of fun.
The track “We’re In Love” might be the most emotionally devastating of all, and it once again speaks to Dacus’ ability to get incredibly specific with her songwriting. Bringing her vibrato back over a highly stripped-back instrumental, we find her desperately hoping that she can still be around in an ex-partner’s life in some way after it’s over. Her bandmates don’t even come in until the four-minute mark, but Dacus’ tearful delivery carries the track all on her own. The most striking image of all is Dacus singing an ex’s song written about her at karaoke, not needing to look at the screen, and hoping nobody sings along and even partially claims the song with her. “Anti-Curse” is another heavier Baker tune that finds her singing about the conflicting thoughts running through her head while nearly drowning during a great day at the beach with friends, while “Letter To An Old Poet” closes things out with a final one for the fans. Interpolating the group’s old track “Me & My Dog,” which they’ve said was their most memorable moment as a group when they performed it in concert, the track once again celebrates the bond they’ve formed.
With the album’s rather decisive title and the members’ burgeoning careers, there’s no telling if or when we’ll ever get another project from boygenius. Luckily, they gave just about everything they had to this one. Along with the Lana Del Rey project earlier this year, it’s been a pretty impressive start for folksy sad girls in 2023.
Favourite Tracks: Emily I’m Sorry, Cool About It, Not Strong Enough, We’re In Love, Satanist
Least Favourite Track: $20