Home A & E Reviewing The Record

Reviewing The Record

Reviewing The Record
Photo courtesy of Harrison Whitford

Jasper Kerr

Staff Writer

It’s not often that a band’s debut album is a victory lap, but supergroup Boygenius (stylized boygenius) — made up of Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers — has been riding an unprecedented wave of hype from most mainstream music publications. Parodying Nirvana for their January Rolling Stones cover and receiving applause from the likes of Pitchfork and Mojo, boygenius is likely the only band at the moment that can get away with naming their first record “The Record”.

The anticipation for this album was well deserved; boygenius’ 2018 self-titled EP has become a pillar of post-modern indie folk and is chock-full of sharp songwriting, creative song progressions, and stellar production. Each third of the group has had successful solo careers, with Bridgers being nominated for four Grammys and even being named one of Time Magazine’s 2023 Woman of the Year. The hype has been nothing short of overwhelming—how could anyone ever live up to it?

“The Record” begins with an acapella introduction, with the three band members flexing their vocal chops in a rosy myriad of melodies. If there’s anything that can be said about the band, it’s that these guys can harmonize.

The scorching guitar leads of “$20” are a slight jump-scare, but a welcome one. This song is a sun-soaked foray into nostalgic power pop —a fitting sound for a callback to 2018’s “Souvenir.” “It’s a bad idea, and I’m all about it,” Baker croons wryly, and the tone for the track list is set. One highlight comes at the tail end of this track as the band members collectively cacophonize: Bridgers lets out one of her trademark shrieks, and the chaotic clamor is allowed to reach the ceiling of their studio’s limiter before cutting out completely.

As “$20” screeches to an abrupt halt, we are gently introduced to a more mellow cut, “Emily I’m Sorry” — the track that started the process of this album, after Bridgers emailed a demo of it to her two best friends and asked them to get the band back together. “Emily” is another highlight, due largely to the wonderfully atmospheric engineering from Sarah Tudzin of Illuminati Hotties fame.

“Not Strong Enough” is a wonderful power ballad with one of the most subtly catchy vocal melodies in boygenius’ collective discography. This song (along with “$20” maybe) is the closest thing the band has to a simple, straightforward, suburb-punk banger.

“Revolution 0” has me pulling my hair out for a few reasons. Firstly, it is beautiful and beautifully depressing at that. This may be one of Bridgers’ best studio vocal performances — which is really saying something — and the mellotron-laden outro is stunningly arranged. From a melodic and instrumental standpoint, it is one of boygenius’ strongest tracks to date. Yet, there is something bothersome about the lyrics. Bridgers delivers in her trademark, conversationally emotive tone, and is as personal as ever, but what’s missing are the details. What had made Bridgers’ songwriting so strong in the past was her aforementioned tonality paired with almost overly specific nods to her lived experience (see: her nautical-themed dream in 2020’s “Moon Song”). Lines like “I don’t want to die; that’s a lie” and “wish I wasn’t so tired; but I’m tired,” while valid, just don’t hit the same, sounding almost like a parody of her own writing style. Artists can experiment with their lyricism, and there is always something to be said for simplicity — but the specificity in Bridgers’ previous work has been a big part of what has made her such a standout songwriter.

The following track, “Leonard Cohen,” is ironically almost the opposite of its predecessor. Dacus recounts in specific detail an occasion where Bridgers, showing her bandmates an example of a great song with no chorus, started going the wrong way on the interstate — giving the three an extra hour in the car to tell stories they “wouldn’t tell anyone else.” It is short and sweet, with no chorus (nice) and not much in the way of an instrumental; yet the song is touchingly personal, and it adds well to the album’s progression.

“Letter To An Old Poet” is a near-perfect closer — another callback, this time to fan (and critic) favorite “Me & My Dog.” Bridgers details a toxic, unhealthy, unbalanced relationship, the subject of which is left up to speculation. She doesn’t want to be emaciated anymore — just happy. The cheering of the crowd from boygenius’ iconic performance of “Me & My Dog” at Brooklyn Steel reverberates through the end of this song, as distant orchestras climax in finality.        

While some of the best moments on The Record may self-reference stronger points in the band’s discography, and may not quite surpass their 2018 EP in quality and memorability, boygenius has once again released a genre-defining batch of indie folk/rock songs. Their slightly more fun and lighthearted sound this time around can be expected given just how successful the band members have been since 2018. And honestly, while I will always love their more emotionally devastating output, their current energy is infectious. They are the moment for a reason — stellar songwriters as individuals, and all-powerful with their forces combined. Additionally, it is wonderful to have some true, independent, genuinely talented artists in the limelight for the first time in what feels like a while. Each of the boygenius members is doing big things for the craft and the culture; and giving us some fantastic music while they’re at it.

Skip to content