The indie rock supergroup deliver with their much-anticipated debut album
boygenius started as a book club. Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker connected over Henry James, and the two of them started up an email correspondence, later adding Phoebe Bridgers as the third member of their discussion group. These three singer-songwriters aren’t just ambitious young upstarts who pooled their resources to launch a career in music – they all had their own fanbases long before boygenius formed. They’re three friends who liked chatting to each other and, eventually, singing together.
‘Without You Without Them’, the album’s opener, reminds us of this. A pretty acapella number just shy of 90 seconds long, it sees the artists singing in three-part harmony like choir kids in their dressing room. It’s something felt across the album, that this is a passion project above anything else. Bridgers, Dacus and Baker like making songs together, so that’s exactly what they’re doing.
That’s not to say that boygenius don’t deliver with the record. The lofty expectations of their combined fanbases weren’t, amazingly, set too high. The three songwriting talents join forces to dazzling effect, their individuality not diminished by the thematic cohesiveness of the album. Spirited indie rock fuses with melancholy ballads, the overarching feeling one of vulnerability, doubt and self-exploration. It’s best summed up in this lyric from the short but impactful ‘Leonard Cohen’: “I might like you less now that you know me so well”.
The trio’s frankness is frequently deliberately funny. “In another life we were arsonists,” they sing on ‘$20’. ‘Satanist’, another big indie rock offering, is arguably one of the record’s high points (although on an album so consistent the peaks are hard to identify). It sees the group decide that anarchy is an appropriate remedy for feeling a little hollow. “Will you be a satanist with me?” is the surprisingly vulnerable question. Elsewhere on the track, they decide it’s time to “sleep in cars and kill the bourgeoisie”.
It’s the record’s most brutally honest, straight-faced moments that make it such a success, though. ‘Emily I’m Sorry’ is a dreamy, tear-inducing apology song whose end-of-the-world vibes have already made it a favourite amongst TikTok editors. ‘Cool About It’ unpacks the joy vacuum that is being the girlfriend who never prioritises her own needs. ‘We’re In Love’ is as frank as its title and truly beautiful, an examination of the dueling contentment and paranoia that comes with being newly in love. “Will you still love me if it turns out I’m insane?” it asks. It feels very much as if the group are laying bare their own minds and posing that question. And the answer is yes.