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Boygenius - Boygenius (Album Review)

Tuesday, 13 November 2018 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Lera Pentelute

Supergroup is a big, ugly label. It’s reductive, and it ramps up the pressure on what is always a new endeavour—even if the players are seasoned pros. Friction is naturally created by expectations rubbing up against the mechanics of making music in a fresh formation, often leading to overhyped records that feel like a tired exhalation of breath from their first note.

Boygenius, the trio of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, immediately appeared a good fit on paper when news of their collaboration surfaced a few months back. Stylistically adjacent to one another and packing young, blemish-free discographies spanning folk-pop, spare singer-songwriter fare and bullish indie-rock, they weathered the early publicity flurry with a knowing press image that nodded to the sleeve art for the first Crosby, Stills & Nash LP.

Similarly, their debut EP makes the whole supergroup thing look redundant. This self-titled effort—six songs built as a team from skeletal versions brought to the table individually—is a vital, thrilling success story that underlines what is possible when artists are willing to back their own abilities while also using their strengths to complement those of others.

At no point do they seek to overshadow one another, but there’s also no suggestion that anything was held back at any point. There are moments when their vocal interplay feels like a baton being passed, with the next runner sprinting into the distance.

Baker flits in and out across proceedings, adding quiet power to harmony lines and breaking out for a moment on the elegiac Stay Down. A couple of verses in, Bridgers and Dacus chime in with textured, understated backing lines that amount to a quid pro quo of sorts. 

Bridgers takes the lead on Me & My Dog, a song that makes a mockery of the short turnaround in creating this record. It’s an example of a band in total control, from the slow fade of its drums through flashes of Benmont Tench in the chorus’s piano line. At the opportune moment Bridgers drops off an indelible image wrapped in an indelible melody: “I wish I was on a spaceship, just me and my dog and an impossible view.”

Salt in the Wound, the penultimate song, is the piece that perhaps best picks and chooses from each musician’s writing, but it also highlights the importance of Dacus to the combination. The folky, tiered chorus feels derived from Bridgers’ ‘Stranger in the Alps’, while Baker’s raw delivery of the line “I’m gnashing my teeth like a child of Cain” really couldn’t come from anyone else.

The grit in the guitars, though, is cribbed from Dacus’s solo work, which is heavier in its presentation than Bridgers’ or Baker’s, while her voice is a wonderful counterpoint. Her tone is different enough throughout that her melodies jab and weave, creating a rich layering effect. At times it’s magical.

On Ketchum, ID, the closing track, they try on that Crosby, Stills & Nash look for real with a delicate acoustic sign off centred around some sweeping harmonies. It’s a comparatively low key way to bow out, yet it reinforces the overriding sense of craft and care that accompanies these songs. As with all projects like this, the future of Boygenius is hazy. But if this is to be it, that would be just fine.

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