The debut from rock supergroup boygenius has only one real flaw: it’s much too short. Its length (still on the longer side for an EP, at six songs) is forgivable, though: The women behind boygenius—Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus—are busy. They’ve each released a critically-adored solo LP in the last year or so and have thusly been swamped with promotional duties and live performances.
Not only do they have record cycles in common, they’ve also been lumped together in—and heralded as the heroines of—an emergent subgenre stamped “indie girl guitar rock.” A clever, and welcome, response to that unwanted categorical canvassing is boygenius, its name a subtle protest of the media’s bent for stereotyping female musicians. While Bridgers, Baker and Dacus are all projected under the same musical umbrella—and undoubtedly share fans—their music is nothing alike. Bridgers stans a noirish, haunting, folk-pop, Baker an emotionally-scorching rock and Dacus a literary take on guitar music. On boygenius, however, the three become one, miraculously and pristinely so. Bridgers, Baker and Dacus pack a novel’s worth of narrative and as many masterful melodies (not to mention harmonies) into just 21 minutes that will leave you feeling as if you’ve had the wind knocked right out of you.
Though the lyrics on boygenius address standard songwriting themes of relationships and self-doubt, its central focus could be sisterhood. As we’ve certainly witnessed over the past year, when women find common ground, support one another and join voices, powerful stuff happens. The same goes for this collaboration. There’s tension and release and continual sharing of the spotlight, signs that some major teamwork went down in the studio. Each artist does get her chance to glow, though: Dacus is first on the riffy, revelatory “Bite The Hand.” She sings “I can’t touch you, I wouldn’t if I could” before the others join in, echoing, “I can’t love you how you want me to,” treading Dacus’s wise ground.
The Bridgers-backed “Me & My Dog” is the buffed standout at the front of this EP’s trophy case. Loose acoustic guitars build to an inferno, or, rather, a glacier: “I had a fever / “Until I met you / Now you make me cool,” Bridgers sings, swiftly administering the cleverest compliment in rock this year.
Baker takes the wheel on a pair of fortified ballads “Souvenir” and “Stay Down,” The former would fit in snugly on Baker’s 2017 LP, Turn Out the Lights. Baker is very instrumentally savvy, and thumping timpani, focused keys and bear-all songwriting rule on “Stay Down.” It sounds like a song about giving up: “Push me down into the water like a sinner / Hold me under and I’ll never come up again.” But boygenius’ unified voices signal there’s still some hope, even as Baker echoes, singing from her gut, “So I stay down.”
The album ends on an especially magical note. On “Ketchum, ID,” Bridgers, Dacus and Baker assume soprano, alto and tenor and churn up a harmony so handsomely melancholic you’ll find yourself snatching tissues without even knowing why. It’s a fitting epilogue, too, that chronicles the band’s shared experience as touring musicians, and the emotional heaviness following those long nights in unfamiliar places. “I am never anywhere / Anywhere I go,” they sing in unison. “When I’m home I’m never there / Long enough to know.” Those are devastating words, but, at the same time, you get the feeling Bridgers, Baker and Dacus have found some sense of home in one another. Their mutual experiences are what unite them, and that bond bleeds through this music in every buzzing, beautiful bar.
Hear Lucy Dacus’s Daytrotter session below: