There’s something about calling your album ‘the record’ that feels satisfyingly on-brand for a supergroup who also named themselves boygenius. Both evoke a performance and parody of male ego attained by a lifetime’s exhaustion from watching women pitted against each other, but rarely in the headline spots; both toe the line between audacious and playful. For the first time since their EP landed back in 2018, it’s an opportunity to assess whether the sizeable talents of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus are capable of living up to the extraordinary triple-bill.
Nonetheless, opening your debut LP with its three least engaging tracks is a bold move that almost capsizes the whole project: introductions arrive by way of a brief a capella intro (‘Without You Without Them’), a relatively plodding riff-by-numbers affair (‘$20’), and a Bridgers-led track that borrows heavily from ‘Chinese Satellite’ with an emphasis on the lite (‘Emily I’m Sorry’). Fortunately, bar a scattering of clunky lines (“I don’t want to die / That’s a lie”), the rest of ‘the record’ manages to successfully scale the vertiginous heights set by the eight solo albums preceding it.
In the moments where one of the three voices commands centre stage, there are career highlights to be found. Baker’s knack for building a song to emotional crescendo, for example – defined by that glorious vocal leap from confession box hush to congregational sermon – is on full display on ‘Anti-Curse’, while Bridgers’ paeans to being both tired of ex-lovers’ bullshit and tired in general mostly hit the mark on ‘Revolution 0’ and ‘Letter To An Old Poet’.
For all the tedious discourse surrounding the notion of sad girl indie music, there are almost as many mischievous winks at the listener here as there are melancholy scenes. ‘Leonard Cohen’ offers it in spades, dropping lines about the late songwriter’s “horny poetry” alongside the more plaintive lyricism of “I never thought you’d happen to me”, repeated at the song’s close. Elsewhere, ‘Satanist’ is neither sad nor particularly indie, instead proving to be a riotous journey through quests for “off-brand ecstasy” and an irresistible rock hook. It’s a lot of fun.
It is Dacus who claims the album’s most gorgeous moments though, dripping in the kind of heartache that arrives charcoal-black in both its sorrow and humour. ‘True Blue’ and ‘We’re In Love’ find her lingering over the incidentals that puncture her lyrical scenes: leaky faucets, trash TV, pink carnations pinned to lapels, Octobers yet to come. Across an album that attempts to corral three distinct talents into one cohesive statement, it’s here that ‘the record’ truly shines: neither entirely sincere nor tongue-in-cheek, but a piece of art that elevates their points of collision.
Words: Matthew Neale