‘We’re In Love’ with Boygenius’s new LP

Ava Carlson

Stretching their hands towards the sky, Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers show off matching teeth tattoos on their wrists in the album cover for their new release, “the record.” (Image courtesy of Interscope Records)

Boygenius – the supergroup band of indie musicians Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker – had been building up anticipation for “the record,” their joint album, for a while. In the five years since their initial collaboration, each artist stayed coy about the possibility of future projects in interviews before being spotted doing a photoshoot for Rolling Stone in November 2022. “The record” was announced on Jan. 18,  2023.

The songs of their first release, 2018’s self-titled “boygenius” EP, largely dug into difficult relationships each had had with past partners, coupled with looks at complicated feelings of aimlessness and self punishment the three shared. “The record” doesn’t shy away from exploring similar themes with songs like “Emily I’m Sorry,” “Cool About It” and “Letter To An Old Poet.” However, as an album, it feels more like a love letter to the trio’s friendship than anything else.

“The record” opens with “Without You Without Them,” the shortest song of the album. Reminiscent of a folk song sung around a campfire, the minimal production plainly showcases the chemistry of Dacus, Bridgers and Baker’s voices as they harmonize over lyrics about storytelling and heritage and ask each other about their pasts.

The second track is “$20,” which was first released as a single along with “Emily I’m Sorry,” “True Blue” and “Not Strong Enough.” A change of tune from the opener, this fast-paced rock song was penned by Baker, whose bold vocals hit like a crisp splash of cold water to the face. Bridgers and Dacus’ voices are incorporated sparingly but impactfully for the first part of the song, putting stress on specific syllables and lines, but as tension ratchets up in the outro, the two take on more prominent roles. While Baker sings about running out of gas, time and money, Dacus urges the listener to “take a break, make your escape,” and Bridgers in the background raises her voice to a desperate scream of a plea for the titular $20.

Bridgers leads “Emily I’m Sorry,” which marks another hard tonal shift, this time to a wistful vocal backed by quiet guitar. Bridgers recounts anecdotes of youthful failures in a relationship with a woman, “wakin’ up inside a dream, full of screeching tires and fire.” Baker and Dacus join in to support her in the chorus, which directly addresses her former partner with a mournful apology for how things went. The bittersweet song sounds distant and far away, fitting its theme of looking back.

Next comes “True Blue,” a joyful ode to open, unconcealed affection written by Dacus. The chorus rushes in like a warm embrace, singing the praises of a tried and tested relationship that allows one to feel truly known and loved, while her bandmates add to the sentiment with backing vocals thatcreate a cozy and heartwarming atmosphere. In the bridge, she triumphantly sings about how she doesn’t even remember who won their last fight, as they’re “not keeping score.”

Boygenius answers audience questions at the premiere of the album’s accompanying short film, directed by Kristen Stewart. (Image courtesy of Variety)

“Cool About It” serves as a return to the pared back, folky production of “Without You Without Them,” while borrowing the plucked guitar of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.” It also introduces a format that will recur on a few more songs in the album: Baker, Dacus and Bridgers each perform a verse incorporating their own styles and experiences that fit into a larger theme. In “Cool About It,” each vocalist alludes to meeting up with an ex-partner and the confused emotions of those romances. Baker meets her ex at a dive bar’s pool table, while Dacus comes prepared to forgive her ex before she realizes they have no plan to apologize and Bridgers revisits the impact that mental illness had on her relationship.

Next is “Not Strong Enough,” the final single to come out before the album’s release. The instrumentation chugs along and builds speed as Bridgers uses the first verse to paint a picture of an unsettling scene with a “black hole opened in the kitchen” that she doesn’t have the will to repair before launching into the chorus, a proclamation of confused identity, gender roles and self worth: “I don’t know why I am / the way I am / Not strong enough to be your man.” Baker’s verse opens in a car and references the Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” before again veering into disturbing fantasies of “getting scraped up off the pavement” after a crash. When her turn for the chorus comes around, Baker subverts the lyric by confiding in the listener that she may actually be “strong enough” but is lying about it to keep her partner’s expectations lowered. Finally, Dacus chimes in, repeating like a prayer the phrase “always an angel, never a god,” as her bandmates join and expand it from a chant to a howl, leading into a final chorus that ends with Dacus admitting that she ultimately just wants to go home.

“Revolution 0” takes that quiet longing and runs with it in another Bridgers led track that feels as though it might fit right in on her album “Punisher.” Mostly set to soft guitar and her hums, she ruminates on death, creative drive, love, illness and exhaustion. Her bandmates’ presence in the song feels like an act of support for a loved one struggling through the darker and slower periods of life, giving Bridgers the space to open up. After an admission about the desire to disappear, the music builds and swells before tapering back down again to close with a snippet of their chatter.

Next up on the tracklist is “Leonard Cohen,” which opens with guitar and Dacus’ slightly distorted vocals, singing about a true story; a road trip gone awry when Bridgers lost sight of the GPS because she was too busy playing a song for Dacus and Baker to listen to. The chorus cuts deep with Dacus’ carefully chosen wording in lines like, “I might like you less now that you know me so well” and “I never thought you’d happen to me,” about the friendship between the three musicians. Their harmonies further enrich the song, adding further meaning to the last lines and implying a deep reciprocity of care.

Dacus, Bridgers and Baker stand by the shore during their album cover photo shoot. (Image courtesy of Beats Per Minute)

Baker brings her grungier, rock-influenced tendencies into “Satanist,” in which each member takes a turn asking someone to join them in a different alternative ideology just to have a reason to spend time with them and do things together. The darker sounding title is belied by a very sweet and genuine question, “Whatever the situation I’m in is, would you come be a part of it with me? Could we do this together?” Between verses, the guitar and drum based instrumental crashes in, before slowing to an eerie snail pace leading up to the final verse. Baker, Bridgers and Dacus’s voices combine in a creeping tempo to sing about clinging and drifting apart on a cosmic scale, finally being wrapped in foggy distortion and sliding into the background.

 “We’re In Love” wins for most heart-baring song on “the record” — no small accomplishment in an album full of ultra-personal tracks. Dacus sings plaintively about how she knows she’s in love with her bandmates because of how deeply their absence in her life would hurt her. The song is a plea to be cared for and understood, asking, “Will you still love me if it turns out I’m insane?” and “If you rewrite your life, may I still play a part?” Dacus delves into the topics of spirituality and reincarnation, hoping that she and her loved ones remember each other in whatever life they’re in.

The album’s penultimate song, “Anti-Curse,” chronicles the true story of Baker’s near death experience drowning at a public beach, blending sensory details of the surrounding water with her attempts to eulogize herself as the end seemed to draw near. She casts an eye over her friendships, her habits and her childhood. The music crescendos as she cries out that she’s “swimming back,” and reaches the conclusion that the love she has for others and the art she makes about it is enough of a reason to save herself.

“Letter To An Old Poet,” the album’s closer, is the perfect finale to “the record.” The track utilizes Bridger’s talent for packing meaning into short phrases to maximum effect with lyrics like, “You think you’re a good person / Because you won’t punch me in the stomach” and “I should’ve left you right there / With your hostages, my heart and my car keys.” Dacus and Baker’s vocals join her as she finally tells her partner “You don’t know me.” The best part of the song arrives at the end, which includes an interpolation of their earlier song “Me and My Dog.” However, the lyrics have changed from “I wanna be emaciated / I wanna hear one song without thinking of you” to “I wanna be happy / I’m ready to walk into my room without looking for you.” It’s an incredibly rewarding and emotional moment for longtime fans of the band, but also a triumphant moment for Bridgers in seizing her strength back.

“The record” is an evocative album that should satisfy fans of the group and fans of each artists’ solo work alike, as well as provide an interesting variety of songs for all sorts of listeners. Above all, it’s fun to listen to, and the joy that Bridgers, Dacus and Baker had in creating it comes across in every track.