The anatomy of the supergroup has a rocky past, often pulled together for commercial gain or a desperate attempt to revive a flatlining legacy. That the individual parts of boygenius are arguably better known as a trio tells a different story, one of unbreakable friendship and deep-rooted mutual respect that has rapidly become the lifeblood of the collaboration. Touching on an unavoidable cliche, they are better because of each other.
It’s no mean feat given their statuses as three of the best songwriters around. They share a powerful honesty that has encouraged a crossover of their respective fanbases, but each boast distinctive nuances that are brought effortlessly to the table. Julien Baker’s self-critical charm bleeds in, as does Lucy Dacus’ heavier tone and quick-witted wording. Phoebe Bridgers – away from boygenius, the biggest name on the line-up but here perfectly aligned – brings her dense blend of delicacy and rage. The screams that brought 2020’s ‘Punisher’ to a crashing end ring out on ‘Satanist’ and ‘$20’ – the latter one of boygenius’ punchiest tracks to date.
’the record’ never shies away from being a sum of these parts, with their love for each other’s craft helping to avoid the temptation to reinvent the wheel. There are songs that are unmistakably assigned to one of their strengths; ‘True Blue’ continues the themes from Lucy’s ‘Home Video’, ‘Anti-Curse’ elevates the full-band outing from Julien’s ‘Little Oblivions’, and closer ‘Letter To An Old Poet’ unfolds in a way only Phoebe could manage. But even in these moments, it’s clear all three are being pushed beyond their usual creative comfort zones.
Phoebe speaks of ‘Emily I’m Sorry’ being the moment boygenius was reignited, written as a solo track but in her mind destined for ‘the record’. It’s indicative of the album’s power of the combined voice, not just in the obviously beautiful harmonies, but also in the playful instrumental and lyrical nods. The words switch from sincere to funny in the blink of an eye, some such as ‘Leonard Cohen’ a self-referential in-joke that simultaneously comments on male singer-songwriter tropes. The track plays out without a chorus, something that none of boygenius’ component parts would have likely written alone.
Here, the trio sound more assured than ever, willing to sit outside of their respective norms, placing their unity first while never shying away from their shared experiences in lyrics and tone. On stand-out ‘Not Strong Enough’, the trio come together with perfect precision, landing the balance between lyrical poignancy and enacting a longstanding desire to reference Sheryl Crow. It’s a shining moment in a sound of friendship that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but comes built on an unshakable admiration for every facet of their beings.