the record by boygenius // Album Review

the record is the debut album by boygenius, the indie-rock group made up of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus. It is the follow-up to their 2018 self-titled EP and during the five years since, the three of them have gone on to release several solo projects to much acclaim. the record is one of my favorite music releases of 2023 so far, it really exceeded all of my expectations and I continue to love it more and more every time I listen to it. 

Over the past couple of years, Phoebe Bridgers has become one of my all-time favorite artists. Her sophomore release, Punisher, specifically is an album that I absolutely love and am endlessly inspired by. Her talent for songwriting and world building within her music is unmatched. This was my first full introduction to the rest of boygenius, but I have since listened to the rest of Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker's discography and have loved everything I've heard so far. I cannot recommend all of their music enough!

An aspect that immediately stood out to me about the record is the vivid and intriguing storytelling through the lyrics. the record is written solely by Julien, Phoebe, and Lucy - it feels so true to who they are as artists individually and collectively. It is so cleverly written and emotionally intense, every time I listen there is always a new lyric that stands out to me.

They released three singles to coincide with the record's announcement in early 2023, "$20", "Emily, I'm Sorry" and "True Blue". With those three songs, Julien, Phoebe, and Lucy each respectively have a moment to shine and are able to express their own individual musical influences and style throughout. Those three songs served as a great introduction to not only what was to come with the rest of the record, but also to first-time listeners of boygenius. 

Each member takes the lead on at least three songs that feel the closest to their individual style - Julien with "$20", "Satanist" and "Anti-Curse", Phoebe with "Emily I'm Sorry", "Revolution 0", and "Letter To An Old Poet", and Lucy with "True Blue", "Leonard Cohen" and "We're In Love". With that being said, they do this while simultaneously being able to incorporate a fresh, collective sound of the band into it as well. "Lifting each other up is how we create," Phoebe said in their interview with Rolling Stone, "We all get to be the lead. We all get the high of each other being in the front, which is so sick and has been the ethos of this band since day one."

This album finds a way to balance who they are as established solo artists, as well as their identity as a band and collaborators. The magic they have created together with this music is incredible, the listener can really hear the pure friendship and artistic chemistry on every song on the record. Some of the best moments of the entire album are those where they come together in harmony, specifically with "Cool About It", "Not Strong Enough" and the acapella opener "Without You Without Them". 

"I'll give everything I've got, please take what I can give, I want you to hеar my story and be a part of it", they sing together in the closing verse of "Without You Without Them". It is the perfect way to transition into the rest of the record and feels so symbolic of all that boygenius embodies. It also feels the closest sonically to where they left off with their 2018 EP, even though they do lyrically reference it several times throughout. 

The second track, "$20" features messy, grungy vocals and production, paired with their classic indie rock sound and vivid lyricism. In their interview with Rolling Stone, Julien referred to the song as a "...wanting-to-poke-the-bear impulse that I’m trying to mitigate". It references the famous "Flower Power" Vietnam protest photograph with the lyric, "Pushing the flowers that come up into the front of a shotgun, so many hills to die on," which is an image and reference that feels just as poignant and relevant today as it did almost sixty years ago. I also love the lyric "mama told me that it don't run on wishes, but that I should have fun". 

"$20" reminds me of "Anti-Curse" from the latter half of the album too, which is another track that I continuously return to for all of the same reasons. They share a similar angst and energy within the instrumentals that sets it apart from the rest of the record. It is written about Julien's near-death experience swimming in the ocean in Malibu - "I'm out of my depth at a public beach, I never listened, I had to see for myself" she sings in the opening lines. She seems to reflect on her life in those moments, "I guess I did alright considering, tried to be a halfway decent friend, wound up a bad comedian, an honest fool with more bad habits than you can count". 

One of my favorite parts of this song is the way they incorporated Joan Didion's quote, "was anyone ever so young" into the second verse. She is one of my favorite authors and Slouching Towards Bethlehem, the book that line comes from, has been so formative for me in my life as a writer since I first read it a couple of years ago. The full quote is "...was anyone ever so young? I am here to tell you that someone was." That reflection on youth and naiveite captures the feelings this song conveys so well. 

Upon first listen, "Cool About It" stood out to me as an immediate favorite from the record. It is a toned-down acoustic folk ballad that features gorgeous harmonies from all three, with some of my favorite lyricism of the entire album. Each has a verse where they open up about their perspective of a relationship ending and not knowing what to say to the other person. "I'm trying to be cool about it, feelin' like an absolute fool about it, wishin' you were kind enough to be cruel about it, tellin' myself I can always do without it, knowing that it probably isn't true", they sing in the first chorus. The beauty of this song, and so much of the record, lies in it's simplicity.

"Cool About It" is followed by another favorite, "Not Strong Enough". It is, in my opinion, the best song they have released yet and represents who boygenius is perfectly. I already know it's going to be one of my most-played songs of the year, I immediately connected so much to the message of it ever since the first listen. Throughout so much of this album it feels like they are trying to make sense of themselves and why they are the way they are. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Phoebe talked about the feelings that inspired this song, "Being like, 'I'm not strong enough to show up for you.' ... Self-hatred is a god complex sometimes, where you think you're the most fucked-up person who's ever lived. Straight up, you're not. And it can make people behave really selfishly, and I love each of our interpretations of that concept." 

The climax of the song comes with the repetition of the phrase "always an angel, never a god". There are so many layers to that lyric with the dichotomy and complexity that is within us all. The build up to the final verse is so moving and one of the best moments of the entire album. 

The Lucy-lead ballad "We're In Love" is one of the most intimate and heart wrenching moments of the record, as she sings to (and with) her bandmates about how meaningful their friendship is. I love the description of very specific, small details from a moment in time, from the hummingbirds, winter lunar halo and the Redwoods. She does this while expressing her innermost thoughts and fears, seeing herself lonely some October in the future alone at a karaoke bar - "Sing the song you wrote about me, nеver once checking the words, I hope that no one sings along, I hope that I'm not a regular". Two of my favorite lyrics from the entire album are on this song, "If you rewrite your life, may I still play a part?" and "I can't imagine you without the same smile in your eyes, there is somethin' about you that I will always recognize". At the end Lucy says, "I could go on and on and on...and I will", a reference to Taylor Swift's lyric from 1989's "You Are In Love". This song is so poetic and deeply heartfelt on so many levels and is a beautiful tribute to their friendship.

"Revolution 0", is what Phoebe Bridgers said is about "falling in love online...with the attention span of being in lockdown, it was just really beautiful". It was actually originally titled "Paul Is Dead", in reference to the famous Paul McCartney conspiracy theories. It is hauntingly beautiful and simple, as all of the songs that Phoebe takes the reins on throughout the album are.

the record ends with "Letter To An Old Poet", which feels similar to "Revolution 0" in a way. Both kind of feel sonically reminiscent of Phoebe's Punisher album, specifically a song like "Savior Complex". She said "Letter To An Old Poet" is about "...when someone has so much power over you, they stop being a person," and is an "...all-consuming love". She sings, "You made me feel like an equal, but I'm better than you and you should know that by now". The final verse of the song is a direct reference to "Me And My Dog" from their 2018 EP, "I wanna be happy, I'm ready to walk into my room without lookin' for you, I'll go up to the top of our building and remember my dog when I see the full moon". That lyrical callback feels like it serves as a bridge for so many of the themes explored throughout both of these projects and the five years they took in between. It closes that gap beautifully. 

The album ends with the lyric, "I can't feel it yet, but I am waiting". On the vinyl version, "Letter To An Old Poet" ends side B on a locked groove, which sounds like they are repeating "waiting" over and over until you lift the needle off the record. That was just a small detail that felt so symbolic to the ending of the album and what this song represents for the band. 

the record is an incredible debut from boygenius, hopefully there is more to come from them together in the future because this is truly an instant classic. It is a beautiful celebration of their friendship and and their artistic journeys so far. Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! 

-Melissa ♡


all photo credit to owners: Interscope Records, boygenius, Matt Grubb and Harrison Whitford


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