Indie supergroup boygenius, comprised of Julien Baker, Pheobe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, released their first EP as group on Friday. All three are known for their brooding, self-effacing writing, and this collaboration delivers just that, with 21 minutes of emotionally raw, sonically sullen music. The strength of this album lies in its ability to highlight the strengths of each artist, culminating in a thoroughly cohesive work. Though the tone and feel of the album is remarkably consistent, each member of the group leaves their distinctive mark.
Dacus takes the lead on the opening track “Bite the Hand”, showing off her ability to allow songs to build, slowly but surely, until they’ve reached soaring heights before the listener has even noticed, much like her solo work like “Night Shift”. Starting as Dacus and a lone guitar, the song swells, adding a drum beat, more guitars, and the voices of Bridgers and Baker. Dacus’ lyrics read almost as a mantra, repeated over and over again as the sonic tension rises, each repetition building upon the last.
On the second song, “Me & My Dog”, Bridgers’ fatigued, nonchalant lyrical style takes the forefront, as she dispassionately sings “Just thought I could hold myself together/But I couldn’t breathe, I went outside/Don’t know why I thought it’d be any better/I’m fine now, it doesn’t matter” Bridgers allows the song to swirl and grow, matching the cold, hollow loneliness of her lyrics.
“Souvenir”, one of two songs in which each member gets her own verse, a largely acoustic arrangement helps to bring the temp down. Unlike the majority of songs on this release, “Souvenir” stays largely in one place dynamically, as Baker is content to wallow quietly. “Stay Down” also sits right in Baker’s wheelhouse, with a deep focus on mental health and self-doubt, as she sings “So would you teach me I’m the villain/Aren’t I, aren’t I the one?”, her pained voice floating gently over an atmospheric guitar.
The group comes bellowing back with “Salt in the Wound”, the second to last track. Introducing a squealing, distorted guitar and the most powerful vocal performance on the album, this song roars where most of the songs choose to whimper. The song highlights the complementary nature of the trio’s vocals: Baker’s vocal, strained but always on key, lifts the upper register, while Dacus’ warm tone fills the bottom end, and Bridgers’ vocals whisper in the midrange, creating a harmonious unison in which every member can still shine through.
Finally, “Ketchum, ID” brings the EP to a close with a folk-tinged piece that is an unmistakable Bridgers creation. While ending with a slow, ballad-like acoustic track can serve to suck the energy out of an album, this song perfectly suits the forlorn, atmospheric themes of the album. The tender harmonies and fingerpicked guitar invoke the fantasy about a simpler life, away from the busy world of touring and musicianship, as \ Dacus sings, “I am never anywhere/Anywhere I go.” The universality and folksy nature of the song leave the sense that this is just one stop along a bigger journey, for the band and for each member.
Though this collaboration may be stretching the term “supergroup” – Bridgers is the oldest of the three at twenty-four, and they have 5 full-length releases between them – the trio cement their ascendance as three of the most important artists in indie rock today. The similarities in their style, from the conversational, emotive lyrics to the purposeful, forlorn guitar work, allow them to function as a unit, but their willingness to embrace one another’s unique sensibilities allows the group to reach a sum greater than its parts.