Album Review: Five years later, boygenius is back with “the record” of the decade

It is a love letter dedicated to the generations preceding them that led the trio to where they are today.


Photo by Harrison Whitford.

Sophie Caulton, Staff Writer

Boygenius is called a supergroup for a reason––it combines the unique voices of the three best singer-songwriters in the game. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus came to boygenius in 2018 off the backs of highly successful solo albums––Baker with “Turn Out the Lights,” Bridgers with “Stranger in the Alps,” and Dacus with “Historian.” Their EP, “boygenius,” featured eccentric songs with three distinct styles and voices, melding together to create a new profound sound. It is no wonder the trio went on to release even greater albums in the following years––Baker’s “Little Oblivions,” Bridger’s “Punisher,” and Dacus’ “Home Video.”

Since their EP five years ago, fans have been anxiously waiting for the return of boygenius. Finally, on March 31, the wait was over. Boygenius released their much-anticipated “the record,” which plays like a band album with a single group identity. There are 12 tracks in 42 minutes of powerful indie love-sick songs, ranging from sweet acoustic with “Letter To An Old Poet” and “We’re In Love” and candid folk lyrics of “Leonard Cohen” and “True Blue” to slicing rock ballads like “Anti-Curse” and “Satanist.”

The album opens with “Without You, Without Them,” where Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus sing an old-school style ballad in unison. It is a love letter dedicated to the generations preceding them that led the trio to where they are today. They sing acapella, “Thank your father before you, his mother before him.” Clearly a work of Dacus’s dream-like style, the song sets a soft, warm tone for “the record.”

However, “$20” reminds us never to set any expectations of boygenius, as Julien Baker leads the rebellious rock song. It is an ode to a famous Vietnam Protest photo, “Flower Power,” with the lyrics, “pushing the flowers that come up into the front of a shotgun.” The guitar and drums are as powerful as the cries of Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus screaming, “Twenty dollars!” A later song, “Satanist,” has similar instrumentals. It is full of philosophical angst, with Dacus singing, “Will you be a nihilist with me?” At three minutes, the trio unleashes wails reminiscent of an exorcism, freeing themselves to be Satanists.

Bridgers’ influence shines through in “Emily I’m Sorry” and “Revolution 0,” which sound like they could be on her 2020 album, “Punisher.” “Revolution 0” is a slow love song to an imaginary friend. Bridgers gets vulnerable as she admits, “I don’t wanna die, that’s a lie/ But I’m afraid to get sick.” “Emily I’m Sorry” is a painful but mellow apology where she admits, “I’m 27 and I don’t know who I am.” The songs are more restrained than others on the album and offer emotional glimpses into Bridgers’ metacognition.

“Cool About It” parallels Julien Baker’s “Song of E.” Both wish for cruelty over sympathy from the subject they are singing to. It is a gentle melody over strums of guitar, where the trio begs for honesty, believing fake kindness is crueler than cruelty itself. Their voices harmonize in a smooth, aching tune, singing, “I ask you how you’re doing, and I let you lie.”

One of my favorites is “Not Strong Enough,” a self-loathing confession about not being enough for a partner, as well as a commentary on gender expectations. The bridge repeats the phrase, “always an angel, never a god.” I interpret that to mean men get to be gods, while women are expected to be pure angels in relationships. 

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Bridgers said of the lyrics, “self-hatred is a god complex sometimes… and it can make people behave really selfishly, and I love each of our interpretations of that concept.” For example, the trio sings in the chorus, “not strong enough to be your man.” It is an admission that they can’t show up for their partner because of their femininity and contempt for themselves.

“The record” ends where boygenius began. In “Letter To An Old Poet,” Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus bring the album full circle with an extension of their 2018 hit, “Me & My Dog.” The revival’s raw emotion and sweeping sound climaxes in the last stanza, “I’ll go up to the top of our building/ And remember my dog when I see the full moon.” The lyrics are a remix to its predecessor’s “I wish I was on a spaceship/ Just me and my dog with an impossible view.” “Me & My Dog” is a song of longing for escape, while “the record”’s final track is a nostalgic journey toward closure. In “Letter To An Old Poet,” Bridgers ends with optimism. “I can’t feel it yet/ But I am waiting.” She sings of hope and patience. Although, hopefully, fans won’t have to exert too much patience while waiting for more of boygenius’ heart-wrenching lyrical mastery.