The Record review: On their first album as Boygenius, 3 beloved solo artists become an indie-rock supergroup

"Without You Without Them," the 81-second opener of Boygenius' first full-length, couldn't be much simpler — nothing more than the voices of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker harmonizing in an empty space accompanied by the fuzzy air of low fidelity. It suggests that The Record will be of a piece with their 2018 EP, Boygenius, a warm and sad little spark of a project that captured the gifts of three singer-songwriters just before they leveled up as solo artists.

Then, as soon as that track fades, the lopsided time signatures of the fully electric pocket epic "$20" kick down the door, and it becomes clear that their new album will be a leap forward for the trio. It's easy at times to tease out what each member brings to the equation: With its gorgeously glum apology and quiet electronic enhancements, "Emily I'm Sorry" has echoes of the subdued hymns on Bridgers' 2020 breakout Punisher; the fatalistic quaver at the heart of "We're in Love" would fit snugly on Dacus' 2021 stunner Home Video; and Baker's delivery — the most astringent of the mix — cuts like a knife through the fingerpicked acoustics of "Cool About It."

But if their EP's songs frequently gave off the vibe of a single performer backed by her sympathetic friends, The Record is the sound of a group. This collection is more unified — it's no coincidence that in the production notes each track lists all three women as songwriters and credits the vocals to "boygenius." It is also more powerful and unfettered, leaving the impression that if Dacus, Baker, and Bridgers were feeling out their boundaries on Boygenius, they've now moved past them entirely.

boygenius album. boygenius photo credit: Shervin Lainez
boygenius album. boygenius photo credit: Shervin Lainez

Shervin Lainez Boygenius

It's not only that they've turned up the dial — though it's hard to miss how the electricity and forceful drums of "Not Strong Enough," "True Blue," and "Satanist" raise the stakes and add dimension to their palette. The songs themselves have been sharpened substantially — they're less likely to just create a mood or drift in it, whether the amps are cranked or the threesome revisit the melancholic indie-folk-pop of Boygenius in offerings like the watery "Revolution 0," in which Bridgers confesses, 'Wish I wasn't so tired, but I'm tired." Instead, they come across as more direct and personal, with a clearer shape and direction.

As a result, the album veers from tongue-in-cheek friskiness (see: "You say you're a winter bitch / But summer's in your blood" in "True Blue" and pretty much all of "Satanist") to open-hearted, yearning vulnerability ("I came prepared for absolution, if only you'd ask," Dacus sings in "Cool About It"). And sometimes — as in the line "You could absolutely break my heart / That's how I know we're in love" — we get both at once.

That's to be expected from three young stars who are quickly becoming indie standard-bearers, but it's never a guarantee that a collaboration from talented soloists will work, let alone multiple times. The Record navigates that hurdle deftly enough to suggest that none of these artists have reached their full potential. Neither has Boygenius. B+

The Record is out now.

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