What do you get when you take three best friends, who just happen to be some of the leading ladies of modern indie rock, and throw them in a recording studio together? Apparently, you are blessed with boygenius (Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus), whose debut EP was named as one of the 50 best supergroup albums of all time in 2020 by us for good reason: The three gel so perfectly, and it seems preordained that they would have teamed up in 2018 to release a batch of six songs to critical acclaim. The trio’s intricate music speaks to a niche audience within a widening culture, both timeless and decidedly au courant; they’re too cool to be Sally Rooney characters, yet too idiosyncratic to populate the Top-40 charts.
But each member has a wholly original artistic vision and viewpoint that reverberate throughout their own solo discographies. Baker’s powerhouse voice imbues her songs with a heart-stopping measure of sorrow, wavering between despondence one moment, spiritual emancipation the next; Bridgers’ deadpan witticisms and knack for off-kilter arrangements belie her instincts toward gothic imagery and breezy psychedelia; Dacus’s sprawling, diaristic odes to self-preservation and self-ascension can be as zealous as they are biting. Their strength as boygenius lies not just in their ability to congeal together, but in the distinct styles, stories, and craftsmanship they bring to the table.
To celebrate the band’s debut full-length LP, we’re taking a look at each member’s solo catalog and ranking every track from them. Baker, Bridgers and Dacus don’t really have any clunkers. Yet, while certain songs hover above the rest, some do get lost in the ether when stacked against the whole breadth of their oeuvres. And, of course, taste levels differ, and what enamors us to one piece of music over another is about as subjective as what orientates one person to chocolate or vanilla, summer or winter.
Some ground rules, for efficiency’s sake: We’ve nixed remixes, covers (with one exception), demos, live versions and collaborative efforts in which the artist is merely featured. That means none of Better Oblivion Community Center’s catalog will be featured in the list, Baker’s Little Oblivions (Remixes) EP has been disregarded and many of Dacus’ excellent covers, including her rollicking rendition of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” won’t make the cut either. That leaves us (remarkably) with 100 songs from some of this generation’s brightest songwriters that, in turn, make you want to dance, scream, hug your best friend and, perhaps, weepily slide down the shower wall. —Michael Savio and Rayne Antrim, Paste’s TV and Music interns
Editor’s Note: We’ve included renditions from our Paste Studio sessions for a few of the songs from Bridgers and Baker.
100. Julien Baker: “Over”
The instrumental intro to Baker’s second LP Turn Out the Lights sets the stage for the album to follow, complete with a melancholy piano melody and string orchestration that bleeds right into “Appointments.” It’s nice, but, of course, something’s gotta go last, and we’re not overthinking this one.
99. Phoebe Bridgers: “Smoke Signals (Reprise)”
Bridgers’ ghostly humming of the hook, accompanied by ukulele strums, doesn’t particularly warrant a high ranking. Nonetheless, it’s a simple reprise that honors the original track. Haunting in nature, and lovely in tone.
98. Phoebe Bridgers: “DVD Menu”
It’s basically the same deal as “Over.”
97. Lucy Dacus: “Trust”
Dacus’ lyrics are never anything short of vulnerable, and, here, she recites them as though reading from her diary, letting the relatively straightforward track’s uncomplicated riffs and easygoing chord progressions do the heavy lifting.
96. Julien Baker: “Vessels”
One of two tracks on Sprained Ankle not recorded at Richmond’s Spacebomb Studios, “Vessels” finds Baker still trying to figure her sound out. Its demo vibe arrives disjointed from the rest of the record, and her lyrics about “knees bruised and naked” can feel a little reductive.
95. Phoebe Bridgers: “It’ll All Work Out”
This is the one cover we opted to include, but only because it appears as a bonus track on the deluxe edition of Stranger in the Alps. The Phoebeification of this Tom Petty track puts an even more sorrowful spin on an already sorrowful song. It’s pretty and neat, but Bridgers has much more interesting stories of her own to tell.
94. Lucy Dacus: “Thumbs Again”
The self-explanatory title tells us exactly what this track is: “Thumbs,” but again. The key difference comes from some freshly layered guitars and a low kick-drum that drives the track, giving it a Beach House-esque, dream pop atmosphere. Yes, it’s a good song, but, on principle, we’re Team “Thumbs” all the way.
93. Julien Baker: “Brittle Boned”
The other Sprained Ankle track to be recorded outside of Spacebomb, “Brittle Boned” is a haunting, if not straightforward, song that juxtaposes Baker’s corporeal delicacy with her tendency toward self-harm. It’s almost unbearably devastating to hear, but it’s also illuminating and resonant for those who struggle with similar trials, even while Baker covers comparable topics in much more memorable ways elsewhere.
92. Julien Baker: “Conversation Piece”
Baker’s baptist roots unveil themselves in “Conversation Piece,” alluding to her early exposure to music through a church-going upbringing. Her buttery guitar tone and heavy reverb creates an atmosphere similar to that of worship music, and her lyricism is, as always, raw with emotion.
91. Lucy Dacus: “Cartwheel”
For a song called “Cartwheel,” it doesn’t hurt that this acoustic performance makes you feel like you’re spinning in the same circle over and over again. Dacus is nothing if not sonically clever, and, on this sneaky Home Video track, she leaves the audience jumping to their hands and landing back on their feet.
90. Phoebe Bridgers: “You Missed My Heart”
In typical Bridgers fashion, this queer-murder-fantasy ballad trades in a bombastic folk tune for a gorgeous anecdotal lullaby. It’s not as compelling sonically as it is lyrically, but it’s an appropriately strange closer for Stranger in the Alps.
89. Phoebe Bridgers: “Would You Rather”
Bridgers’s duet with Better Oblivion Center bandmate Conor Oberst is a thematic iceberg of a track. The sweet, childlike back-and-forth between Bridgers and Oberst in the chorus keeps the song light, while maudlin references to domestic abuse buoy underneath. Classic Phoebe.
88. Julien Baker: “Sucker Punch”
Baker’s songs that prominently focus on the trials of alcoholism tend to vividly cut through the bullshit romanticism of blacking out. “Sucker Punch” is a nice addition in this regard, but its emotional gravitas fades in comparison to some of her best musings on the subject.
87. Julien Baker: “Crying Wolf”
“Crying Wolf” has a final chorus where Baker’s voice is perfectly controlled yet strained, especially when she sings: “In the morning when I wake up, naked in their den / And I’ll swear off all the things I thought that got me here.” It’s tragic, and we can’t help but believe her.
86. Julien Baker: “Televangelist”
Baker has a nasty habit of, quite literally, throwing her listeners into the emotional pulpit and leaving them to bawl their eyes out. On “Televangelist,” she asks: “Do I turn into light if I burn alive?” There’s no chance we’re not feeling that one.
85. Julien Baker: “Ziptie”
“Ziptie” finds Baker wrestling with the common question many emotionally astute believers ask of God: “When will He ‘climb down off of the cross / And change [His] mind?'” Sonically, it’s not as potent as the rest of Little Oblivions, but it properly caps off an album full of big questions and small answers.
84. Lucy Dacus: “Going Going Gone”
In terms of texture, there isn’t a ton going on in “Going Going Gone.” But, as a testimony to the fleeting nature of young love, it’s an endearing song with a live recording performance that perfectly represents the story being told. Oh, and Baker and Bridgers are also featured on this track in the sing-along, so that’s a plus.
83. Julien Baker: “Blacktop”
The limitations of Baker’s recording resources poke through on this Sprained Ankle track, though the one mic, one guitar and one take style extends to much of the record. However, its dramatic tension, the question of “Will God be proud of Baker’s ‘love letters’ to Him even if, as a queer Southern woman, her fellow Christians may not sing with her?” helps the track’s magnitude stretch further than its sonic constraints.
82. Julien Baker: “Red Door”
The intricate guitar riffs on “Red Door” give the track a country flair, while also adding depth to an already vulnerable single. The song deals with the heavy heart and mind of a sinner, as frustration and desperation are marked by the colors of red and yellow, all coinciding with bloody knuckles and self-immolation. Ultimately, Baker proclaims that sinners would rather be broken in the hands of others than themselves.
81. Julien Baker: “Everything to Help You Sleep”
This song is, ironically, a little too sleepy to be as impactful as some of Turn Out the Lights’ other offerings. But, it provides a compelling showcase for Baker’s vocals and her fraught relationship with her faith.
80. Lucy Dacus: “Forever Half Mast”
“Forever Half Mast” is frustrating, but only because it proves that Dacus could be a proper country star if she wanted to. “Yes, you’re evil, but you’re not that bad” could be ripped straight from a Kacey Musgraves banger. Now I’m fantasizing about how great that collaboration would be.
79. Julien Baker: “Even”
Self-conviction and wanting to right your own wrongs one is a common theme in Baker’s discography. “Even” is one of many, but an uncharacteristically acidic tongue, and lyrics like “It’s not that I think I’m good / I know that I’m evil / I guess I was trying to even it out” separate it from the pack.
78. Julien Baker: “Guthrie”
“Guthrie” is a mercilessly somber, acoustic ballad that harkens back to Baker’s early career, even though it was released just last year. If it weren’t so difficult to swallow lines like “Wanted so bad to be good / But there’s no such thing” and “I can make promises sober I’ll never keep / And you can believe me as long as you want,” it’d be one we’d come back to more often.
77. Julien Baker: “Good News”
Thematically, “Good News” might be the most fundamental Julien Baker song, as it seemingly covers every piece of her life, including her faith, sexuality, addiction and devotion to music. She traverse all of it over a lightly strummed electric guitar. Play it for your uncultured friends who ask, “So what’s this Julien Baker girl’s deal?”
76. Lucy Dacus: “Kissing Lessons”
Percussion. Guitar. Production. “Kissing Lessons” is not just a chef’s kiss, but an absolute banger from Dacus. The song’s only fault is its runtime, which clocks in just shy of two minutes, leaving it feeling somewhat unfinished.
75. Phoebe Bridgers: “Halloween”
Phoebe Bridgers hates living by the hospital, where the sirens go all night. At least she can joke about it. But seriously, the ghostly distortions of guitars in the back speak to one truth: The only thing spookier than dying people waking you up in the middle of the night is what love does to a person. According to Bridgers, it can cause us to completely change ourselves for the people we love. It begs the question: How can it be real, honest love if it requires you to don a mask the whole time?
74. Phoebe Bridgers: “Demi Moore”
Bridgers is no stranger to Millennial-speak, and her haunting songs are often as funny as they are uncanny. “Demi Moore” is no exception, with its references to sexting and stoner anxiety and a punny title. It’s a nether track from her debut album, but not a forgettable one.
73. Julien Baker: “Tokyo”
A surprising, arpeggiated intro puts an effortless twist on this Baker track that would adumbrate the expansion of her sound found on Little Oblivions. She cries, “It’s nothing like you said you wanted / nothing like you’ll get and / You want love / This is as close as you’re gonna get,” over a heart-wrenching guitar riff and drumline.
72. Phoebe Bridgers: “Chelsea”
Bridgers has always been acutely aware of what toll a life in the music industry can take on someone. But, at the same time, she has a keen sense of what salvation it can offer to those struggling in life. Her treatise on the late Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen casts a removed-yet-fascinated gaze over their torrid affair, giving us some of the most hard-hitting lyrics of her career with “I’ve fallen, yes, I’ve fallen right into the love I’ve found.”
71. Julien Baker: “Distant Solar Systems”
One word describes “Distant Solar Systems”: lush. The amount of reverb and smooth tones both augment and offset the idea of distance. Baker’s divine vocals complement the themes of otherworldly feelings and escaping the unknown particularly well.
70. Julien Baker: “Happy to Be Here”
“Happy to Be Here” begins with one of the best, cleanest metaphors for mental illness in Baker’s discography: “If I could do what I wanted / I’d become an electrician / And rearrange the wires in my brain.” The rest of the song slowly builds to Baker’s bare-chested plea with her own creator: “I heard there’s a fix for everything / Then why, then why, then why not me?” Goosebumps. Tears. The whole gamut.
69. Phoebe Bridgers: “Killer”
When Bridgers falls in love, she falls hard—so hard that it can kill both her and the apple of her eye. “Killer” is a fine piano ballad and a good showcase for the unorthodox connections Bridgers can make between herself and her own self-destructive tendencies.
68. Julien Baker: “Shadowboxing”
If Sprained Ankle was about fighting to become sober, Turn Out the Lights is about fighting to stay sober, and “Shadowboxing” provides apt fodder for the experience of fighting in the invisible wars of mental illness and substance use disorder.
67. Julien Baker: “Bloodshot”
A perfectly mixed song about a negative relationship, this Little Oblivions track employs a lot more texture and depth, sonically, than some of the early songs in Baker’s discography. Baker sees the pain she’s getting as deserved, because she believes she’s inherently unlovable. Love is painful; pain is comfortable.
66. Lucy Dacus: “Green Eyes, Red Face”
At face value, “Green Eyes, Red Face” seems like a straightforward courtship tune that could come across as coy or reserved. But, Dacus sings it with just enough sultry poise that it betrays the cliched man-approaches-woman narrative with aplomb. It’s another clever and disarmingly sticky love song from her.
65. Julien Baker: “Highlight Reel”
Fittingly enough, “Highlight Reel” showcases the unpleasant moments that replay over and over in your head. You don’t have much of a choice of what’s highlighted, and sometimes you don’t have a choice in what you experience. The banging and clanging of synths make it sound like the unforgiving memories are bouncing off the walls of your brain, all with no place else to go.
64. Julien Baker: “Ringside”
“Ringside” arrives as a spiritual sequel to “Shadowboxing,” but this time inviting Baker’s loved ones are witnesses to her self-destruction in the boxing ring. It doesn’t rock quite as hard as some other Little Oblivions songs, but it still packs a punch.
63. Julien Baker: “Mental Math”
It’s always nice to be greeted with a beautiful, spritely guitar arpeggio from Baker. “Mental Math” is a gorgeous song that sounds like the first day of spring: a glimmer of warmth from the sun, in a discography that otherwise revels in wintry winds.
62. Lucy Dacus: “VBS”
For fellow Vacation Bible School alums, this one hits a lot more personally than others. Although these week-long camping trips during the summers are supposed to make us feel closer to God, they, for some of us, could just “make the dark feel darker than before.” And if you include a sweet guitar riff after referencing Slayer, of course we’re going to hand it to you.
61. Julien Baker: “Claws in Your Back”
Baker’s catalog is never short of heartbreaking ballads, but “Claws in Your Back” feels particularly searing. There’s not much more to say about this one than what Baker says already, especially when she sings “I wanted to stay, I wanted to stay.”
60. Lucy Dacus: “Yours & Mine”
One of the most notable facets of this protest anthem about the Baltimore riots of 2015 is that Dacus adopts a sly Americana drawl on it, adding a paradoxical, blighting undertone to the proceedings. It turns a sentimental ditty into a call for action.
59. Phoebe Bridgers: “Sidelines”
In some ways, “Sidelines” doesn’t completely feel like a Phoebe Bridgers song at all (a love song that doesn’t end in tragedy or a ruthless takedown of an ex). That’s because it was originally penned by her co-writer and drummer Marshall Vore in 2020 and then repackaged by Bridgers for the soundtrack of Hulu’s Conversations with Friends. Still, it’s a downtempo pop song that’s as catchy as it is surprisingly sweet, and, because it’s one of her most recent singles, it broadens the type of music that Bridgers can make in her ongoing career.
58. Lucy Dacus: “Partner in Crime”
Thankfully we’ve reached a point with autotune where its usage is regarded as a stylistic augmentation rather than a vocal shortcut, and “Partner in Crime” is filled to the brim of autotune yumminess. Too bad that, when you’re belting the extremely catchy chorus into a hairbrush-microphone, it won’t sound nearly as polished.
57. Phoebe Bridgers: “ICU”
Puns! Who doesn’t love ‘em? But, like any good thing in life, they come tenuously, and Bridgers knows this all too well. She sings, “Now I can’t even get you to play the drums,” as the kick disappears and is replaced with a diminished chord that messes everything up, all of which, of course, is followed up by the lyrics “Until I fuck it up.” Clever, and gutting, move.
56. Julien Baker: “Vanishing Point”
This B-Sides track gets an A, thanks to some crushingly beautiful lyrics that keep the listener under the weight of their own doubts and self-sabotage. The grounding, rumbling drums make it feel like your arms are shaking from the weight of a boulder that is trying to crush your shoulders. Phew.
55. Lucy Dacus: “Body to Flame”
An epic from beginning to end. Dacus takes us on emotional journeys frequently, but, here, it’s through the swelling of all the instrumentals. The soft strings of acoustic guitars, violins and violas give way to the alternative rock sounds of heavy drums, killer basslines and classic electric guitars. The heat starts from the small embers, before exploding into a raging fire, only to end in sizzling smoke.
54. Lucy Dacus: “Next of Kin”
This is the type of pop-rock song about being at peace with one’s decisions in life that almost makes me not so afraid to die. Almost.
53. Phoebe Bridgers: “Smoke Signals”
“Smoke Signals” is a song brimming with nice touches: the Twin Peaks-esque bassline, the slightly extraterrestrial synth and the elliptical phrasing replete with such gems as “it’s coming up lavender” and “One of your eyes is always half-shut / Something happened when you were a kid”. As the opener on Stranger in the Alps, it kicks things off with a restrained gusto that solidifies Bridgers as both a student and a master composer of folk music.
52. Lucy Dacus: “Addictions”
Despite the fact that Dacus actively refrains from relying on any kind of substance, she can’t resist the temptation of love and its slippery slope, which can lead to being addicted to another person. It harkens to the notion that people repeat the same cycles with the same people, even if the relationship is tarnished and done for.
51. Julien Baker: “Hurt Less”
It’s fitting that listening to Julien Baker feels like being pitched through the windshield of a car and getting smacked with every sad thought you’ve ever imagined. Purposefully or not, Baker writes about this experience on “Hurt Less,” another wrenching and gorgeous tune about her struggle with depression. Over solely piano and strings, Baker finds the strength to take care of herself for others’ sake: “This year I’ve started wearing safety belts when I’m driving / Because when I’m with you I don’t have to think about myself”. It’s hard to trust whether this is true or not, but it hurts less to believe her.
50. Lucy Dacus: “My Mother & I”
Mother and daughter relationships are beautifully complex. There is nothing stronger than the a mother’s love, which can be passed down in many different languages: touch, gifts, quality time, etc. Sometimes they fail to realize the other things they pass down to their children. “My Mother & I” is a gorgeous acoustic song that relays the raw beauty of women without negating the fact that their beauty is measured in unrealistic parameters. The strength comes when you don’t just see those boxes, but you step out of them, too.
49. Julien Baker: “Rejoice”
By the time you finish “Rejoice,” it’s strange to think that it comprises just Baker’s voice and her strumming an electric guitar. The quiet song explodes in the final verse, clueing us in on just how much Baker’s vocal prowess can turn a tiny room into a packed cathedral.
48. Phoebe Bridgers: “Punisher”
Bridgers’ tribute to her idol and specter-mentor, Elliott Smith, is still prototypical Phoebe: sumptuous, eerie and funny all at once. Never meet your heroes, kids, she seems to say. Just write about them.
47. Lucy Dacus: “First Time”
The running steps of the drums exude a swarm of butterflies ravaging your stomach, as you begin to lie down for your first time. There’s a general sense that you feel quite foolish going into the endeavor, considering the fact that you’re, in all respects, a novice of the assumed act. There’s a loving nostalgia to the song, reminiscing on the moment that you can never have back again.
46. Julien Baker: “Relative Fiction”
Baker’s brushes with suicidal ideation come up repeatedly throughout her discography, and, while they’re never not difficult to hear, they’re told with a keen sense of self-awareness and distance. “Relative Fiction” is one of Baker’s most lyrically complex tunes, as she sings about understanding how she is perceived by the outside world and how being “a character of somebody’s invention” gives her more initiative to chart her own course.
45. Lucy Dacus: “The Shell”
“The Shell” begins with something supernatural, as muttered and distorted conversations between multiple people creep along from ear-to-ear. It’s a song about feeling like a ghost of a person and moving through spaces unnoticed, not being sure of yourself and your own capabilities and letting others move through you. The song’s grandiose rising tension building into a climax is one of pure cinema, propelling any lost soul forward.
44. Julien Baker: “Heatwave”
“Heatwave” is one of Baker’s scariest songs. Not satisfied with solely detailing her own experiences with suicidal ideation, she paints a portrait of a car on the freeway engulfed in flames. The realization that someone else’s suffering has become an inconvenience for her (“This is gonna make me late for work”) dawns on her. It’s stark and violent, but, like most things Baker does, is delivered beautifully.
43. Phoebe Bridgers: “Georgia”
Initially released with two other singles, “Killer” and “Steamroller,” “Georgia” made its first gritty appearance in 2015. The track was strictly acoustic, allowing the Skeleton Mother to address the mother of her Oedipal lover directly, before it was rereleased with refined production, harmonies and a phrasing that highlights the sticky spot Bridgers finds herself in. “If I fix you, will you hate me?” she cries in the song’s final moments, even though she already knows the answer.
42. Julien Baker: “Song in E”
In classic Baker fashion, she explores the themes of religion, addiction, and self-annihilation with an introspective gaze toward her own capacity for hurting someone. If someone lashes out at her for whatever she did wrong, it confirms the evil that she sees in herself, allowing the fall from grace to land much softer. The song is in E, as in “extreme introspection to the point of self-hatred.”
41. Lucy Dacus: “Strange Torpedo”
Dacus’s songs have a tendency to twist and take new shapes as they tumble along. “Strange Torpedo” starts as a doe-eyed love song, only to transform into a frustrated tale of dealing with another person’s alcoholism. But then she changes it again, this time to a sympathetic berceuse pointed at the object of her affection’s condition. It’s a song that, sometimes, gets buried underneath others on No Burden, but it sinks its target nonetheless.
40. Julien Baker: “Sprained Ankle”
Clocking in at just under two and a half minutes, “Sprained Ankle” is a morbid lullaby that succinctly reveals both Baker’s M.O. as a performer and the irony that, while she can bear her soul to audiences around the world, she simply can’t do the same to the people in her life. As the harmonies fade out in the outro, we’re left alone with that two-note melody, wondering where to go from here.
39. Phoebe Bridgers: “Chinese Satellite”
“Chinese Satellite” uses big sounds to explore big ideas. Would losing someone you loved be any easier knowing someone, or something, else was out there taking care of them? Is the possibility of seeing them again in some kind of afterlife worth subscribing to the idea of blind faith? Nobody knows, but we’re happy to float around in Bridgers’ universe until we find out.
38. Lucy Dacus: “Christine”
“Christine” spotlights Dacus’s concern with a friend getting married to a guy that doesn’t treat her right. While a scene of her chucking a shoe at the altar is comedically histrionic, the song itself is masterfully subdued and grounded in her love for this friend, transcending it from what could be a late-aughts Taylor Swift jam into something that is uniquely linked to Dacus’ songwriting mastery.
37. Julien Baker: “Funeral Pyre”
“Funeral Pyre” is a gorgeous song that chronicles what it means to burn yourself alive by enduring your own pain for the sake of a relationship or for someone else: You slowly kill yourself day by day by ignoring the pain that the buried hatchet has done to your left side, and the burning flame of a dying love has finally went out. Yet, you’d reignite the flame in an instant if it meant you could continue loving them.
36. Lucy Dacus: “Direct Address”
Quite the genre-bending song, Dacus conjures a bit of folk, bluegrass and indie rock while directly addressing someone who had intently been listening to her set at a small show. “I don’t believe in love at first sight,” she repeats, sounding less and less certain each time. “Direct Address” provides a glimpse into the wonderfully wry-yet-romantic mind that Dacus has. And there’s nothing ambiguous about it.
35. Lucy Dacus: “Nonbeliever”
For a song about nonbelief, it’s startling that Dacus’ punctured views of Christianity, friendship and her hometown don’t make for a more low-tempo song. Instead, the result is Dacus at her peak: emotionally nuanced, propulsive and just plain exuberant. While her beliefs may be skewed, her knack for understanding the catharsis she and others need holds steady.
34. Phoebe Bridgers: “Funeral”
This song is an absolutely torrential downfalls of tears. Losing a friend so early in life is nothing short of tragedy when you’re consumed with the emotional acuteness to recognize that, while it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself, you “remembered someone’s kid is dead.”
33. Lucy Dacus: “Fool’s Gold”
One of Dacus’ biggest songwriting talents is her ability to matching the instrumentation with the storylines of her songs. In this case, the parading bassline and glittering piano summon the ambivalent, slightly droll idea of facing a new year—and all the promise and eventual disappointment it brings. It’s one of Dacus’s prettiest tunes, in a catalog full of them.
32. Lucy Dacus: “Timefighter”
A rumbling bass and cracking drumsticks introduce you to the full-body sound of “Timefighter.” There is a slow lull that walks along the lines of seduction. Bluesy, jazzy chords make you want to sink down into your chair and melt into your own body. The electric guitar slides between the crisp tones of Dacus’ voice, giving the song the edge it needs.
31. Lucy Dacus: “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore”
“Are they laughing at me or with me?” is the common conundrum that those with a good sense of humor (and a painfully introspective disposition) tend to deal with. On “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” Dacus is over it and ready to be taken seriously. This opener from No Burden rocks hard and lets us know Dacus is a force to be reckoned with.
30. Lucy Dacus: “Historians”
Truly the halfway mark between officially leaving Earth and entering the afterlife, “Historians” is a perfect closer to Dacus’ second album, and a curtain call to a period of our lives that we’re ready to say goodbye to.
29. Julien Baker: “Hardline”
“Hardline,” the opener of Little Oblivions, ushered in a new sound for Baker, signaled immediately by the heavy synths that kick it off and, not long after, the heavyweight drums Baker plays herself. It’s one of a few songs where the scope of Baker’s instrumentation matches the raw power of her voice, which cries out double entendres and masochistic overtures that stick with you long after the track has finally slipped back into silence.
28. Julien Baker: “Sour Breath”
“Sour Breath” has one of the most masterfully crafted build-ups in Baker’s catalog. As she repeats “The harder I swim, the faster I sink” over and over in the song’s outro, like Sisyphus rolling that boulder up the mountain, she finally reaches the top with one final wail. But, as with any period of recovery from substance abuse, we know, and she knows, that she’ll have to start all over again tomorrow.
27. Lucy Dacus: “Dream State…”
“Dream State…” is a perfect chronicling of real life in a way that feels like a dream, or a discovery of loss and solitude in a world where familiar faces are no longer present.
26. Lucy Dacus: “Triple Dog Dare”
There’s just something about Dacus’ album closers that hit different. A forbidden love story that shouldn’t be considered forbidden in the first place, “Triple Dog Dare” finds its love-struck narrator looking back on times when they were too young to understand and too young to do things differently. They recall confusion between platonic love and romantic desire, or, rather, a chosen ignorance in order to keep the narrator’s world from crumbling down. They imagine a scenario where they escape such a small world into one where their love could unfold, but alas. The guitar riff at the end screams, “Why couldn’t we have done this together?”
25. Phoebe Bridgers: “Scott Street”
I can tell you right now: if I were walking down Scott Street and saw Phoebe Bridgers coming toward me, I’d switch over to the other side of the street. This is only because, as this track makes clear, she has a tendency to absolutely decimate anyone who crosses her path, turning an innocuous run-in into an opportunity to question the integrity of a relationship that has since soured in her memory. “Scott Street” also indicates that Bridgers has plenty more bells and (literal) whistles up her sleeve production-wise, infusing an outro with glimmers of brass and even the odd locomotive whistle. “Anyway, don’t be a stranger,” she internalizes in the song’s final moments, and, after this song hit the airwaves in 2017, she’d never again be a stranger to the indie rock scene.
24. Lucy Dacus: “Troublemaker Doppelgänger”
Dacus often walks a fine line between bluesy rock and indie folk, but this one is firmly the former. Through the vocal melody, strange guitar tones and subtle inclusion of “daddy,” we’re taken to a place before coming-of-age hits, where we’re tasked with trying to decide how to fulfill certain needs for love and attention. We are in fact too young to play, and too old to mess around.
23. Lucy Dacus: “Map On a Wall”
Sometimes, the only thing we can ask for is to be seen. Despite everything we are insecure about, we want to be looked at and acknowledged, to be admired and not forgotten. We want to see the world and everyone in it for who they are. Dacus takes us on a journey of self-discovery, asking others to see us for how we see ourselves. This song is textbook Lucy, with electric guitar, drums and a hint of bass that tumbles into a perfect climax before settling back into place.
22. Julien Baker: “Repeat”
“Stadium sound” is, perhaps, not an entirely appropriate description of Baker’s music, but “Repeat” proves that, if the world were a juster place, she’d be selling out big arena tours. While the opening guitar riff could easily feel at home on a Coldplay hit, Baker’s preoccupations with death, and the nightmare that is addiction, clarify that, even though it’s a bigger sound, “Repeat” could only ever belong to her.
21. Julien Baker: “Faith Healer”
Because Baker’s music is so intensely personal, how wisely she criticizes the institution of Evangelism in her work can get lost. “Faith Healer” draws the comparison between miraculous, though dubious, faith healers and those who peddle drugs, arguing that for those like Baker, who struggle with navigating “the terror and the beauty” of the world, will buy what these people are selling. It’s trenchant and disheartening, and another reason to listen closely to what Baker has to say.
20. Phoebe Bridgers: “Savior Complex”
In one of the most heartbreaking and haunting ballads in her catalog, Bridgers paints an incredible picture of relationships by depicting how complex they can be. Yes, there are a lot of people out there who sacrifice the wellbeing and needs of themselves in order to make an individual happy. It can be dangerous when one does so, and they might find themselves in a position of righteousness and justice that can lead to resentment and “pissing contests.” Yet, “true love” is so often equated to fixing another human being, when in reality it is no one’s job to fix anyone else. Only the individual themselves can do that. Bridgers is no stranger to well-written imagery, and the “crocodile tears, run the tap ‘til it’s clear” won’t be forgotten any time soon.
19. Lucy Dacus: “…Familiar Place”
The successor to “Dream State…,” “…Familiar Place” closes Dacus’ debut record not with another illusory ellipsis. Her infatuation with a lover has run its course, and it’s time for her to remove herself from someone whose self-destructive qualities have sunk her, too. It’s an early career highlight that simultaneously stands as a somber goodbye; a moment when the shock of no longer being tethered to a lover hasn’t quite worn off. And it’s only Dacus left at the bottom of the slope, ready to move onto whatever comes next.
18. Julien Baker: “Something”
The minimalism of Baker’s earlier works hammer in just how lonely and stuck she often feels. “Something,” a song about a moment of inertia that leaves her “kicking up dust” while her lover drives away, dials in on a loneliness, even as her vocals ascend. It’s here where she is able to reach a place that’s more sublime than miserable. It’s one of the best showcases of her talent, both at the mic and on the page.
17. Lucy Dacus: “Thumbs”
Dacus’ sound has both expanded and been refined over the course of her career. On “Thumbs,” a standout from Home Video, soft angelic pads complement Dacus’ smooth voice, letting the emphasis rest on her storytelling. She’s ready to protect the one she loves from their own father. It hurts worse when someone is expected to still see an abusive family member on the principle that “they’re family.” All that person can do sometimes is dig their thumbs into their skin and bite their tongue until it bleeds. “If you let me / I would kill him,” she sings point blank, at once both startling and completely earned.
16. Julien Baker: “Everybody Does”
Baker has a tendency to push others away. Friends, lovers and God Himself, none are absolved. “You’re gonna run, it’s alright, everybody does,” Baker concedes, but her voice, resigned one moment and urgent the next, betrays her lyrics. It’s the kind of Julien Baker song that leaves you gasping for breath when you’ve finished listening. It’s okay, everybody does.
15. Phoebe Bridgers: “Graceland Too”
Bridgers has said that one of the hardest things about being human is being there for someone who has self-destructive tendencies. You can’t control people; all you can really do is be there for them as best you can. “Graceland Too” is a love letter to friendship and a message from Bridgers to Baker that she would do absolutely anything for her. Baker and Dacus recorded backing harmonies for the song in Nashville, and their inclusion in a song about the three musicians converging at Elvis’ home is as inspired as it is crushing.
14. Lucy Dacus: “Please Stay”
When we face the potential for unimaginable grief, sometimes the simplest requests are the ones that carry the most weight. “Please Stay” finds Dacus begging her best friend not to go and leave Dacus behind to pack up her “clothes in the dryer,” “keys on the counter” and all the other lifeless items she’s left behind. When navigating the horrors of having a loved one contemplating suicide, our most selfish desire is also our most honest: Don’t die, please. “I think you mean what you say, when you say you want to die / I think you mean what you say, when you say you want to stay alive,” Dacus sings with restraint as Bridgers’ and Baker’s voices harmonize underneath. It’s one of Dacus’ most wrenching songs that stays with you long after it goes.
13. Julien Baker: “Favor”
“Favor” is one of Baker’s most sonically dynamic tracks, perfectly matching the anguish and dejection she wavers between on the road to recovery. She’s guilty about all the times she’s let down herself and those in her life, but she’s not ready to abandon her efforts to get better. The drums come in and out, the harmonies fade away and her isolation gleans like a crack of light through a brick wall. As she reflects on her own suicidal past, she arrives at one of the most important truths of her life: Her love for others can be the cynosure that guides her toward a path of sobriety. “Who put me in your way to find? / And what right had you not to let me die?” she sings in the final chorus. It’s emotionally decimating and, somehow, hopeful all at once, in brilliant Baker style. And, knowing it’s a response to Bridgers’ “Graceland Too” and Dacus’ “Please Stay” just makes it all the more heartrending.
12. Phoebe Bridgers: “Motion Sickness”
Bridgers can be flippant one moment, painfully sincere the next. But filtering trauma through humor is sincere, and “Motion Sickness” lets Bridgers do this unencumbered, bolstered by some of the most rocking instrumentation in her discography. All of this allows her to twist the knife in her ex (“I faked it every time, but that’s alright”) while acknowledging that nothing about her breakup has been easy (“I’ll be glad that I made it out / And sorry that it all went down like it did”). It’s her most popular song for good reason: When we hear that opening drum kick in, we can’t help but “surrender to the sound.”
11. Lucy Dacus: “Pillar of Truth”
On “Pillar of Truth,” Dacus retells the story of a dying grandmother she went to visit, hence the lines “I am weak looking at you / A pillar of truth / Turning to dust.” Dacus was never really close with her growing up, but found lots of respect and strength in the fading woman lying on her deathbed, especially after realizing the moment she was experiencing was fleeting. The production on the track is clean and crisp, with Dacus’ voice and guitar work propelling the song forward.
10. Lucy Dacus: “Hot & Heavy”
Rekindling a former flame is a dangerous game. There’s nothing sexier (and, potentially, more destructive) than the tension that arises in the space between you and the person whose body you once knew so intimately, but have since been separated from for years. “You used to be so sweet / Now you’re a firecracker on a crowded street,” Dacus croons in the chorus, and it’s unclear if this new firecracker is good or bad, a lethal time-waster or inamorato incarnate. “Hot & Heavy” skips along like a heartbeat in love, but a tinge of remorse colors even the most spritely of guitar riffs, amounting to an absolute banger of a track that’s as torn and forlorn as the woman at its helm.
9. Phoebe Bridgers: “Garden Song”
The warped finger-plucking of “Garden Song” takes anyone back to the markings put on the doorframes of their childhood home. Bridgers recalls all the minute memories, or, otherwise, itty bitty pieces of scattered information to form a larger picture. Things have changed: She’s made beautiful gardens atop bad soil. Even though she was haunted by her past, she grew out of it and out of her old body and into a new one. Others around her did as well, saying, “I don’t know when you got taller / See our reflection in the water.” After a certain age, her resentment towards the world grew smaller. Bridgers’ vocals are quaint and still, accompanied by crisp and clear production that allows the coming-of-age story to grow the way it needs to.
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8. Julien Baker: “Go Home”
In Sarah Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, she explains how “it is not just that bodies are moved by the orientations they have; rather, the orientations we have toward others shape the contours of space by affecting relations of proximity and distance between bodies.” On “Go Home,” the magnificent closer of Sprained Ankle, Baker’s orientations towards all the various objects of her desire threaten to pull her apart at the seams. Her addiction to alcohol, her lesbianism and her Evangelical upbringing have been conflicting passions that remain fatal. But, they’re also what make her her. However, it’s the way she creates space between a sparse piano melody, dreamily reverbed guitar and her own gorgeous, heartbreaking voice that transforms the song into something beyond a simple ballad. In the end, in spite of (or because of) these overlapping orientations, there’s only one desire that can either temper or outweigh the rest: “God, I want to go home,” she howls, and it’s in this moment when the admission finally frees her from something she didn’t even realize was holding her back.
7. Phoebe Bridgers: “Kyoto”
There are plenty of songs about daughters and their relationships with their fathers that’ll make you want to call up Dad and tell him how much you love him. “Kyoto” is not one of those songs. Instead, it belongs in a specific subcategory of Bridgers’ music, which is the sad-angry-hilarious rock song. As always, her lyricism is piercingly funny and a little out-of-pocket, as she deadpan delivers such unforgettable lines as “I’m gonna kill you / If you don’t beat me to it” and “He said you called on his birthday / You were off by like ten days / But you get a few points for trying.” But, to lose sight of the empathy that Bridgers pours into the song is to completely miss the point. Behind the pocket piano riff and the rip-roaring drumbeat, a deep, conflicted sadness permeates the tune, setting it apart from both chart-topping pop music and subdued indie folk. Bridgers makes it clear on “Kyoto” that, while there’s little that’s easy about this relationship, the hardest feelings that brew within us can wind up the most cathartic to let out.
6. Lucy Dacus: “Brando”
All three boygenius members have a certain cinematic quality to their music. But, when A24 inevitably releases their next grainy-filter coming-of-age dramedy to the masses, the chances of “Brando” soundtracking the climactic moment when our heroine runs through the street at night, finally free from everything (and everyone) that kept her from feeling at ease in her own skin, are invariably high. The song captures that specific feeling of reuniting with a former friend who provided just as many pleasant memories as they did painful ones, casting a sideways gaze at the idea of no longer wanting that person in your life but needing them to admit “that [they] never knew [you] like [they] thought [they] did.” If anything, the bouncy chorus is too fleeting, just as noncommittal as Dacus’ cinephile frenemy was in their youth. Perhaps we just have to be thankful for the scant good times among the bad; life just isn’t how it is in the movies after all.
5. Julien Baker: “Turn Out the Lights”
Depression can be debilitating: You’re suffocating under piles of laundry at the foot of your bed; water cups and bowls of cereal collect on your desk and, sometimes, on your floor. Sometimes, there’s a hole in the drywall that you can’t seem to fix. All you can do is stare at it, confused as to how it got there in the first place. All of the signs of depression start to seep into your physical reality, and it’s something you can’t ignore. But it’s also something you can’t really begin to take care of. The monotony of this vicious cycle is all-consuming. Baker describes her depression as a very isolating thing, saying that, at the end of the day, when the lights are off as you’re trying to drift off into sleep, “there’s no one left / Between myself and me.” No matter how much support her friends are trying to give her, the empty sentiments push her further into herself, because she is on the other side of them. She describes turning off the lights as her moment of peace. At that point, all you want to do is close your eyes and fall asleep, hoping the days can feel shorter and these feelings can go away sooner. The bridge is a masterpiece of outcry; an exclamation to turning out the lights, and a mourning the feeling of loneliness and isolation.
4. Phoebe Bridgers: “Moon Song”
Throughout much of Bridgers’ discography, a deep devotion toward music and the artists who create it shines through even the most hollowed-out views of the world. But Bridgers is keen enough to know that music does not equate to salvation, and, on “Moon Song,” the emotional centerpiece of Punisher, her love for the art form is never more clear-eyed and bitter. She and her lover can agree on the dubious virtues of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” but can’t separate John Lennon’s vexing relationship with women from the art he’s shared with the world. This undercurrent of dejection spools over into a destabilized, hypnotic and lovesick lullaby that feels like an elegy to a former self, one whose North Star had always guided her toward that singular passion. “And if I could give you the moon / I would give you the moon”, Bridgers lays bare in the song’s climax, emptying herself of any pretenses for ironic detachment or self-preservation. She cares, and it’s that unadulterated care that plants the song within our gut.
3. Julien Baker: “Appointments”
Many splashy words can describe Julien Baker’s music, but one that always comes to mind is “arresting.” “Appointments” is the type of song that stops you in your tracks upon a first listen. Its three-note guitar melody and carefully built narrative about wishing you could be better for the person you love signal something in our brains. Then, everything cuts out, leaving Baker over a ringing chord to sing. With the full force of her chest, Baker declares that she “has to believe” everything is going to be alright, even when she knows it won’t be. There are few musicians today who can convey as much with their voice over such few instrumental accompaniments, who can convince us they’re going to get better even when they can’t convince themselves. Luckily, Baker is an artist with much to say and even more to sing. We’re all the better for having her voice in this world.
2. Phoebe Bridgers: “I Know the End”
In June 2020, it was difficult to not have premonitions of the apocalypse in the back of your mind. By happenstance, Bridgers had recorded “I Know the End,” a song that starts as a reticent contemplation on life passing by, before veering into an effervescent castigation of American capitalism, faith and, more generally, the end of all things. It’s her “A Day in the Life,” a wandering epic that trades in the quotidian for the euphoric and exalted; the track crosses the boundaries between the living and dead. Brigers’ trademark wit and appetite for stray imagery are abound, but the strength of “I Know the End” comes from its ascending composition and belligerent climax, as horns and drums and shredding guitars clang against one another in a full minute of glorious anarchy. That final shriek to the heavens undoes something in our brains, taking a private moment of introspection and inviting it to be shared by each and every one of us. There’s no experience as universal as global armageddon, and there’s no one quite as equipped to lead us through it than Phoebe Bridgers.
1. Lucy Dacus: “Night Shift”
“Night Shift” is number one on this list for a reason. The song is a massive epic that chronicles the heartache of a five-year relationship now over. There’s discomfort in having intense vulnerability with someone you no longer know anymore. “The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit, I had a coughing fit,” Dacus sings, as her anger brews after being asked to reopen old wounds for the sake of achieving closure. She piercingly asks: “What was the plan? Absolve your guilt and shake hands?” “Night Shift” builds immensely, only to be brought back down into the depths of Dacus’ mountainous voice. If you’ve seen her play this track live, you know that everyone who loves it feels it deep within their soul. As she plows through one final push, an attempt to lock her heartbreak away in the back of her mind, she declares that she wants her past love songs for future lovers to sound like cover songs; she wants to be washed anew. The noisy, electric guitar breakdown fuels the track’s anger fully, and there’s a catharsis that comes when Dacus fully allows herself to feel everything one last time, both emotionally and sonically. “Night Shift” is as much about an ending as it is about a beginning, much like how the dead of night crawls into the mouth of a new morning.