Music

Boygenius Provide Formal and Emotional Strength on Their Self-Titled EP

Photo: Lera Pentelute / Courtesy of Matador Recrds

The supergroup trio boygenius blend their individual styles into a powerful and moving collaboration.

boygenius
boygenius

Matador

26 October 2018

The boygenius plan could have been a disaster: throw a few songwriters with unconnected styles into a supergroup, give them a ridiculously short time to write and record an album, and then get the album out as quickly as possible. Fortunately, boygenius – the trio of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus – aren't just any supergroup. The trio have spoken repeatedly about the friendships that sparked the endeavor and their joy in genuine collaboration. The resulting self-titled EP is a masterwork in blending individual styles into a smooth, singular piece of art that's affecting throughout.

The three artists connected on tours, but they don't necessarily fit easily together. Bridgers sits most comfortably in folk settings, while Dacus is more an indie rocker. Baker does something more indefinable, a brand of rock notable for its emotional weight as well as its sharp production. Across boygenius, each artist has her moments lyrically and vocally, but the resulting work melds them to the point that it would take a little guessing to figure out who wrote or conceived what. "Salt in the Wound" sounds like it could have come from any of the three writers, but the guitar work sounds like Dacus while the track builds like Baker.

But the guessing game is the least interesting part of the album. "Salt in the Wound" doesn't succeed simply because fans in the know will enjoy the collaboration; it succeeds because it's sharp and well constructed. The trio pile imagery upon imagery, matching the chorus's lament about a lover's poor behavior, a series of "taking" like handkerchiefs coming out of a magician's sleeve. The behavior prompts a memorable moment: "Trick after trick, I make the magic / And you unrelentingly ask for the secret." It's a challenging emotional moment tied to language that sticks.

All six songs are equally effective. "Me & My Dog," the most Bridgers-sounding song on the album, delivers a complex look at the rise and fall of a relationship, tying the whole arc to insecurity and hurt. The coffeehouse-if-it-weren't-so-cool song builds to a harmony on a strange line. At the climax, the singers announce, "I wanna be emaciated," with just enough hitch that on first listen we might expect that last word to be "amazed" or anything positive given the beautiful tone. The impact on the line devastates not just because of its oddity or its connection psychological issues but because of its callback to the beginning of the track, where Bridgers sang, "We had a great day / Even though we forgot to eat." An empty stomach now symbolizes both the emotional pain of the present as well as the brief joy of the past.

That sort of craft fills the album. In the Baker-led "Stay Down", she blends religious imagery with video game references. When everything burns out, she finds life to be a "half-life" and a "fallout", allusions that subtly look back at the lover who looked at his screen instead of her, as well as her feelings of disconnect from her own body. If she's removed from the physical like someone playing a video game, she's removed from the spiritual in her fight with God, to the point that she threatens to turn a baptism into a suicidal drowning. The title phrase that ends the song refers not only to being underwater, but to remaining sad and to being a boxer on the canvas, tying up the opening imagery of the song. The formal precision of the track is hard to overstate, but the group's performance prevents it from being a dry exercise. The emotional potency comes through the structure and wordplay without flaunting it.

The boygenius EP marks a stunning release from three singular artists. Hearing them integrate their particular gifts would be worth a listen alone, but the performances are so remarkable that the disc's background becomes trivial. The trio have a short tour planned, and then may or may not ever record again. That each are producing such stellar music on their own softens the disappointment of that news, but that doesn't make up for the fact that something special happens when they get together.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Music

Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.