Boygenius - The Record album review: Phoebe Bridgers’ new supergroup soars beyond the sum of its parts
Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus are all too aware of how this is supposed to go. For the three solo artists’ first EP as Boygenius, they copied the pose of an archetypal supergroup, Crosby, Stills & Nash, on the cover. In January they were photographed on the cover of Rolling Stone in the matching suits and ties that Nirvana wore for the same magazine in 1994. Their new ballad Cool About It features an audible nod to Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer. They know their history. Egos clash, fame is pain, and it shouldn’t be long before everything falls apart horrifically.
But from the matching tattoos on their three wrists on the cover of this debut album, to the intense collaboration and deep mutual admiration that is plain in every song here, it looks like this is a band that will last. They were friends first, releasing debut solo albums around the same time and bumping into each other to swap reading material on the touring circuit. Nor do they particularly need to join forces to increase their profiles. All three have been doing very nicely alone, with Bridgers in particular earning multiple Grammy nominations and mainstream recognition on the back of her Punisher album.
Working together, they’ve pushed each other to surpass their origins in mighty fashion. Songs aren’t easily identifiable as the product of one writer, though Baker seems more responsible for electric, energetic outliers such as the enjoyably crunching Satanist. Instead they tend to exchange verses or weave their fairly similar voices together, especially on the a cappella Without You Without Them.
Lyrically, all three have a wondrous skill for setting a scene. All the specifics feel like the listener has been given precious permission to join them on a wrong-way road trip, “Drag racing through the canyon”, or half-swimming, half-drowning, “making peace with my inevitable death”. They’re funny, too. Like that band name, there’s another dig at male egotism on the song Leonard Cohen, where Dacus compares herself to the late folk hero: “I am not an old man having an existential crisis at a Buddhist monastery writing horny poetry.”
It gradually dawns that all the references to love and intimacy are not about romantic partners. They’re singing about each other. On the exquisite We’re in Love in particular, it couldn’t be clearer that these three would do anything for each other, including driving each other to create something that is very much greater than the sum of its parts.