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boygenius’ the record Review: A Spectacular Debut Album

It’s been over four years since Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus teamed up to release the boygenius EP, coming together like singer-songwriter Voltron and leaving an indelible imprint on the indie rock canon. Since then, boygenius have lived on as more of an idea than an entity, a brief-but-beautiful stopover in the careers of three young women. After all, supergroups tend not to resemble constellations but supernovas, burning brightly before fading away.

So when boygenius announced that they’d not only be returning as a band, but delivering a debut full-length album titled the record on Friday, March 31st, there was reason for pause. Why risk diluting all that accumulated goodwill by offering up a release to be scrutinized and compared? Yes, fans have been pleading for new boygenius songs for years, collectively losing their shit whenever Bridgers, Baker, and Dacus would collaborate or play a one-off set. But isn’t that exactly the reason to stave off disappointment and bail on trying to top yourself?

Less confident artists would cower in the face of such expectations, but boygenius revel in them. the record stands as a testament to the trio’s communal self-assuredness, unspooling across 12 tracks that provoke, endear, and devastate.

Recorded in January 2022 at Shangri-La in Malibu, the record came together after Bridgers, Baker, and Dacus, along with co-producer Catherine Marks, put in ten-hour days for a month. The creative process was not a gathering of odds and ends, but an effort to produce a capital-A album, and that sense of intentionality comes across in the track sequencing.

The a cappella “Without You Without Them” opens the record, tethering the project to the folk tradition and hearkening back to the music of Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, not to mention The Carter Family. It also posits the record as the work of a trio, rather than a collection of songs by three like-minded-yet-separate musicians.

At the same time, the record covers ample sonic territory and allows the three principals to play to their creative strengths. The next three songs function as a showcase for those strengths, kicking off with “$20.” With its muscular power chords and reverb-drenched instrumental build, the song would not sound out of place on Baker’s 2021 album Little Oblivions, which married her confessional lyricism with bass drums you feel in your chest and layers of distortion. However, it distinguishes itself from that album due to an added boost from Bridgers’ signature primal scream and Dacus’ resonant alto vocals.

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