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‘Kitchens, Drag Racing, and The Cure’ – boygenius, ‘the record’ album review

Since its release in January 2023, boygenius’ the record has collected perfect scores from DIY, NME, and Rolling Stone, setting the band up for The Tour this summer and landing them a set at this month’s Coachella. Compared to the ache and emotional purge of the 2018 self-titled boygenius EP, this full-length album represents a fading of anger and a confidence found in healing from past mistakes. the record is a masterclass in learning to understand your own and others’ emotions, celebrating above all the power of friendship (yes, the type of friends who make out in short films directed by Kristen Stewart). 

Through boygenius, the boys – Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus – resist the cruel reduction to the ‘sad girl music’ narrative so often pushed onto them as individual artists. The trio take their name from the “archetype of the tortured genius”, wishing to channel in their own lives and music the confidence of the male artist who has been “told since birth that their every thought is not only worthwhile but brilliant”. This album both embodies this spirit – urging us to “be the boygenius” – whilst challenging its toxicity by portraying the true experiences and difficulties encountered by each artist along the way. ‘Emily I’m Sorry’ conveys Phoebe Bridgers’ feelings of guilt towards a past love, Emily Bannon (the breakup of their polyamorous relationship resulted in grooming allegations and a messy defamation lawsuit against third member of the relationship, Chris Nelson). 

Essential to boygenius’ unique sound is the extraordinary blending of voices – stripped down to a cappella in the record’s first track ‘Without You Without Them’, a texture first demonstrated in the EP with ‘Ketchum, ID’. Through harsh panning and raw ambience, ‘Without You Without Them’ evokes the intimate vision of the three women gathered around a single microphone, gently harmonising to the fluid rhythms of Lucy Dacus’ lyrics . With the almost-familiar, swaying metre of some old forgotten tune, ‘Without You Without Them’ is a tender celebration of the folk and the feminine – a recognition of past generations, grateful for how things have turned out despite how things may have once been. 

The album’s second track, $20, throws us straight into a punchy, determined groove that somehow feels equally youthful and volatile, changing between a 7 and 5 beat pattern that allows a decisive punctuation of Julien Baker’s phrases. Building to a screaming climax and underpinned by shuffling, polyrhythmic drumming, this song’s vocals are reminiscent of Bridgers’ ‘I Know The End’ or Dacus’ ‘Night Shift’ – a pure and unadulterated catharsis of emotion. 

The trademark production style of each artist is present throughout all of the album, but none more obviously than the waterlogged, echoing drums of Bridgers’ 2020 album Punisher in the tracks ‘Emily I’m Sorry’ and ‘Revolution 0’. The summer radio single of the album has to come in the form of ‘Not Strong Enough’. With references to kitchens, drag racing, and singing along to The Cure; framing self-aware, pessimistic lyrics in an upbeat, pop-rock form; this song is one to drive to with the windows down. 

the record confidently declares its influences. It includes  a portion of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ on his namesake’s song, and even credits Paul Simon as inspiration for ‘Cool About it’ (a track which uses the melody from Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’). But the most striking interpolation (in my opinion, the best song on the album) is inspired by boygenius’ own repertoire. It comes in the form of the album’s final track, ‘Letter to an Old Poet’ – an allusion to the title and content of one of Dacus’ favourite reads (Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’). This song brings together past, present, and future – it reprises the lyrics of popular track from the EP, ‘Me and My Dog’ into a crushingly hopeful expression of emotional growth, sending the finished album out into the world with a reminder of where boygenius came from, and where it may be going. Bridgers’ weary opening verses are met by the determined supporting vocals of Baker and Dacus – she begins to sing boldly and unapologetically, remarking “I’m better than you / And you should know that by now”. At the culmination of the song, instead of wanting to be “emaciated”, as in the matching lyrics from ‘Me and My Dog’, Bridgers sings that she is ready to be “happy” – the capacity for which she might not yet have, but decides to pursue. 
Listeners who have the vinyl LP release of the record are treated to the exclusive experience of an early locked groove on the final word of this album (“waiting”) – a deliberate effect that sums up the journey towards hope that this album represents and brings the artists physically into the room with us, reassuring the listener that they are not alone. the record is undoubtedly a spring album, emerging from the bitter winter of the EP with a somewhat tentative confidence that propels their sound towards the summer of warmth, hope, and growth. boygenius urges us to deeply understand ourselves and those around us and to let go of pain when we are ready, revealing to us that although past wounds can and will begin to heal, we cannot heal them alone.

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