Written by Samantha Weisenthal
Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker have released their first EP from their newly formed indie-rock supergroup Boygenius. Although the earliest release from these three artists was in 2015, their rise to stardom has allowed them to shift the contours of the contemporary rock genre. Their sharp lyricism and commanding voices have outpowered the competition, allowing them to cultivate a musical language that has become popular amongst the indie rock community. Within a year of one another, Baker and Dacus signed to Matador Records, while Bridgers signed to a similar label Dead Oceans. Because they rose to fame at similar times, the three artists have been consistently compared to one another throughout their careers. As a result, the trio began seeing one another regularly, headlining similar music festivals and attending the same industry events, until it became clear that the three had enough of an overlapping fan base that a tour featuring each of them became a clear next step. The three decided to collaborate on a song as way of marketing a fall 2018 tour. “A long time ago, before I even met Phoebe, Julien mentioned that she had a pipe dream of starting a band with both of us,” Dacus explained in a press statement. “Then we booked this tour and decided the time was right.” And so, after a four day recording session at Studio City, the three had not only created one song, but a six track EP and a whole new band. The EP has been highly acclaimed by Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and music buffs alike, proving that Boygenius was one of the most influential indie rock albums of 2018.
“Bite the Hand”, the song brought in by Lucy Dacus, would fit on her most recent album, Historian. Yet, like “Stay Down”, it is the three way harmonies and vocal support at the end of the song that makes the work distinct from Dacus’s past songs. The three part harmonies are a consistent tool used throughout the album, and are also particularly effective on the song “Souvenir”. “Bite the Hand” is a full bodied ballad supported by distorted guitars and a murky timbre often found in Dacus’s works. The line, “I can’t love you / how you want me to” builds throughout the song, until it is finally deconstructed in a round, and then a three part harmony at the end of the song. The line seems to be a call and response tool, perhaps a nod to the message of the work, centering around the complicated relationship between artist and fan. “Salt in the Wound” is another song on the album about relationships with an uneven give and take. Each of the singers employ witty metaphors to demonstrate the feeling of being taken for granted, “You put salt in the wound / and a kiss on my cheek / you buttered me up / and you sit down to eat”. The consistent theme on the album is about the trials of coming into fame at a young age, about being alone in this fame, and about trying to create relationships which feel beneficial for both the artist and the art. In this way, the creation of Boygenius seems to answer the questions it’s asking throughout the album. The three are yearning for a sense of community which feels impossible to achieve when being consistently on the road, a feeling they discuss on Ketchum, ID, “You say ‘How are you’, I say ‘I don’t know’ / Let’s dissolve the band, move to Idaho”. This isolation seems to be resolved with the new Boygenius trio.
The collaborative nature of Boygenius allowed the trio to construct an album which not only emphasizes their individual strengths, but provides a fresh sound that has not been heard since bands like The Breeders in 1993. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this album is that it enables fans a new way to interpret works they have loved from each of the three singers individually. This dynamic encourages fans to view the work as a reinvention of the songs and albums that they have come to understand in their own ways. For example, the track “Stay Down”, lead by Julien Baker, both sonically and lyrically parallels themes found in her most recent full length album, Turn Out the Lights. While her individual moments on the track are distinctly familiar, the assistance by Bridgers and Dacus contributes an augmentation of Bakers raw performance, granting a new power in the song that isn’t found in the same way on her solo work. By allowing the songs to create something that is a part of yet separate from the artists past works, not only are the artists finding a new way of creating music, the fans are discovering a new way of listening to their music as well. In interviews, the three singers describe Boygenius as an opportunity for each of the artists to revisit past songs and complete them with an assembly of new ideas and opinions from their bandmates. “There were a lot of ideas that each of us would have thrown away on our own,” says Dacus. “Luckily, we saved them from each other.”
Boygenius has formed a space for these three artists to explore the themes in their music in a distinctly open space, in which the three recorded and produced the work free from outside contribution. In this way, the three singers removed men from the equation of the album, making the music more about the narrative and less about the power dynamics of a recording studio. The title Boygenius came out of an overpowering cis-male archetype in the music industry, the kind of guy who walks in with a predisposed musical confidence and the three singers both criticize and yearn for. “If one person was having a thought — I don’t know if this is good, it’s probably terrible — it was like, ‘No! Be the boy genius! Your every thought is worthwhile, just spit it out,’” Dacus said in a NY Times article. Boygenius is thus not just an incredible piece of work, it is also an album that proves women have just as much of a place in rock as any ‘boy genius’. Indeed, the idea and creation of the album is forcing listeners to realize that the ‘sad girl’ genre is a way for the music industry to discredit rock stars like Bridgers, Dacus, and Baker. Boygenius is not an album about ‘women in rock’, it’s an album about the individual experiences of three artists who are also women.