When I heard that Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus were making an album together, my initial reaction was one of skepticism. Despite the fact that they are all brilliant artists in their own right, I was curious as to how well they would all work as a group.
Although each member finds their origins in indie rock, their styles could not be more different. Lucy Dacus is deeply rooted in alternative garage rock, while Phoebe Bridgers made her name with a sharp and succinct combination of folk rock and indie pop. Julien Baker’s solo material is an intense blend of traditional emo and solo indie rock. That said, I was a little apprehensive as to how they would blend together and wondered if one of them would take the stylistic lead on the record.
Boygenius, the group’s titular debut EP, is a beautiful blend of the three styles each artist brings to the table and features some of the most tight-knit harmonies and straight-forward songwriting I’ve heard all year. The record perfectly combines the best parts of each performer’s respective musical style. Despite the large range of styles explored on such a short release, the group still manages to sound cohesive. The record opens with “Bite the Hand,” a gorgeous song full of sticky hooks and guitar leads which features the group’s brilliant three-part harmonies.
“Me & My Dog,” the second track on the record, primarily features Phoebe Bridgers and leans heavily in the folk rock direction. Featuring plucked mandolin on top of more straightforward guitar chords, the song beautifully blends indie rock with folk. “Me & My Dog” has some of the most heart-wrenching lyrics on the whole record, a true accomplishment on an EP this overwhelmingly forlorn: “I wanna be emaciated/ I wanna hear one song without thinking of you / I wish I was on a spaceship/ just me and my dog and an impossible view.”
The album seamlessly blends honest, emo-adjacent lyrics with folk songwriting. Boygenius might be more of a folk-rock record than anything else. However, that genre label and its associations don’t prevent Boygenius from the dynamic and noisy indie rock that is reminiscent of Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker’s former band, The Star Killers.
The penultimate track, “Salt in the Wound,” begins with a slow build that sounds like a Julien Baker solo release. However, the song builds into a beautiful, almost Dinosaur Jr-esque chorus: a gorgeous guitar solo weaves in and around a pervasive wall of vocals and distortion. The drums and guitars are dynamic and driving, and the vocals from all three members are powerful. Both give the track a very distinct forward momentum.
The final song, “Ketchum, ID,” is a slow, vocal-driven ballad. Somehow, the song manages to sound full despite the sparse instrumentation. It is a catharsis on the loneliness one can feel even when surrounded by other people. “Ketchum, ID” features the most beautiful and tightly knit harmonies on the entire release, complete with beautiful lyrics surrounding heartbreak and isolation. The song ends the record with a full and complete emotional release from all three musicians on the project.
Boygenius doesn’t reinvent the wheel on their debut EP, but they do manage to create one of the most full-bodied and honest releases of 2018. The dynamic instrumentation, range of genres explored, and well executed performances devise one of the most compelling releases yet.