Album Review: Boygenius - self-titled EP

From the moment it was unassumingly announced, the ‘super group’ comprised of Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker—boygenius—has been something of gift that continues to give, and a surprise that hasn’t stopped delighting.

Revealed through a simple promotional, black and white photograph sent to the music website Stereogum, without any additional information, the picture of the three women, sitting closely together, positioned in various places on a couch, has become synonymous with the group’s aesthetic thus far.

Less than two weeks after the photograph began making the rounds, the trio’s collaborative EP, eponymously titled, was announced—with three of the effort’s six tracks released in advance, alongside the announcement of a tour featuring all three artists—the logistics of the tour are still not clear to me. Baker and Bridgers are billed as co-headliners, with Dacus serving as support, or as the ‘special guest.’ However, they have intentions of performing the boygenius songs during the show, so I’m not really sure the order in which they take the stage, and how much overlap there is.

It was August when the EP and tour were both announced—with both the tour itself beginning and the EP arriving in November.

Never ceasing to surprise, the boygenius EP was released, at least digitally, a full two weeks in advance of the planned November 9th street date, providing those who have been eagerly anticipating this collaboration a chance to hear the other three tracks included within.

The recording sessions for boygenius were very quick, with each artist bringing in a nearly completed song to give to the group, and then ideas for additional material. And while Bridgers, Dacus, and Baker have been very giving thus far, they smartly kept the efforts that are ‘true’ collaborations a secret until now.

The three tracks that had been released in advance were those written prior to the recording sessions, and while the songs were developed more when the group began working on them, they are still very identifiable products of the original author—Bridgers’ “Me and My Dog” swoons and sways along, with its lyrics punctuated by her dry, dark sense of humor; Dacus’ “Bite The Hand” is driven by crunchy electric guitars and her very post-Sharon Van Etten affect as both a singer and musician; and Baker’s “Stay Down,” perhaps the strongest of the original three, finds the singer and songwriter, known for working without a full band, backed by explosive drums and additional layers of guitars, adding to the unabashed emotive quality of her lyrics and anguished voice.

“Souvenir” is, hands down, the strongest—at least lyrically speaking, of the three other songs included on the EP. Musically, it finds the women working within a more restrained atmosphere of gently strummed acoustic guitars and a bouncing bass line that keeps the rhythm moving along at the measured pace.

Lyrically, all three voices have the chance to steer the song into dark places—Baker takes the first verse, singing, “Anything’s worth trying to stay out of your nightmares/few hours in your dream last night. Always end up dying—you said because of course I did.” Bridgers’ contribution is a little less ominous, and is in line with her dark sense of humor and imagery—“Always managed to move in right next to cemeteries. Never far from hospitals—I don’t know what that tells you about me.”

It’s Dacus who takes the final verse, which has the most devastating line, that she almost too casually delivers before the wordless conclusion of the song—“When you cut a hole into my skull, do you hate what you see….like I do?

boygenius wraps up with its two other collaborative tracks—“Salt in The Wound” and “Ketchum, ID.”

“Salt in The Wound” has all the makings of a Lucy Dacus solo track, though perhaps that is because hers is the first voice you hear; or perhaps its because of the distorted, crunchy guitars that ring out loudly right from the beginning. Baker, assisted by Bridgers, takes the howling second verse, which dips slightly into Baker’s penchant for religious imagery—“I’m gnashing my teeth like a child of Cain,” though in such an explosive, emotional moment in the song, it’s not something to get too hung up on.

“Ketchum, ID” is the kind of very sparse, melancholic, and slow acoustic ballad that is relatively uncharacteristic of all three women; it should come as no surprise to learn that the song was recorded with a single microphone, with all three artists huddled around it, and Bridgers’ acoustic guitar providing the only instrumentation. It may, however, come as a surprise that it was a ‘work in progress’ that was developed and finalized in an hour.

A lamentation on being a young musician, with each voice taking a verse, pensively looking at the isolation felt in the constant state of entropy, it’s the kind of thing song that seems like it was tailor made to be the very final thing performed on stage every night of the boygenius tour; a stark, and a bit of a haunting way to bring the EP to a close.

Nobody really wants to be in a band that is called a ‘super group,’ and the women of boygenius are just as adverse to the title as anybody else in a position like this is. A tour and a collaborative EP is a great start, but the future of a project like this is uncertain—all three women have flourishing solo careers, so I am not sure of the sustainability, or if there is even intent to sustain following the final date of this tour.

Whatever happens in the future, boygenius—the forces of Bridgers, Daucus, and Baker combining—is an important moment in ‘indie rock.’ In a field dominated by men—both bands full of dudes, and male solo artists, the tide is clearly turning with artists like the three aforementioned, as well as the rise of Mitski Miyawaki, Lindsey Jordan’s Snail Mail, and Sophie Allison’s Soccer Mommy—not to mention the first round of guitar-driven female singer/songwriters in recent years like Courtney Barnett and Sharon Van Etten.

It also shows the importance of relationships—working as peers or contemporaries, as well as friends, not taking yourselves too seriously, but taking yourselves seriously enough to put together an impressive collection of songs like this self-titled EP. Though, really, with Bridgers’ Strangers in The Alps and Baker’s Turn Out The Lights in the top two spots of my favorite records from last year, and Dacus’ Historian among my favorites from this year—there was no way this would be bad.