the record, the highly anticipated debut album from boygenius, is out now and it is every bit as good as the combined talents of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus (and their previous music) promise it would be. the record is authentic, masterfully made, and honestly, a series of straight bangers. Julien, Phoebe, and Lucy bring their own signature styles to the table, and the record manages to combine their three musical quirks into cohesive songs.
That being said, the songs don’t all have a perfectly equal amount of each of their styles, and different facets of each shine through on each track. Phoebe’s classic is her simple narrative storyline, Lucy likes using backing vocal harmonies and major chords, Julien favours heavier electric guitar and a building bridge. My mission here is to classify each song off the album as a Lucy, Phoebe, or Julien song.
1. Without You Without Them
The first track is a short a cappella track of about a minute and a half, a simple melody with them harmonizing through it all. One of my favourite parts is the repeating lyrics “speak to me” and “talk to me” as they build a harmony from it. The song is short, vocally equal, and is a beautiful little start to the album. The theme of loving someone and wanting them to be in your life echoes through the rest of the record (haha). This is the one and only time I’ll stay on the fence, but I’m going to say this track is all of theirs.
Verdict: 3 way tie
2, 3, 4. $20, Emily I’m Sorry, True Blue
These were the three songs released as a single first before the album, and I think three were released because they most clearly correspond with one singer. “$20” starts with heavy guitar strums, and alternates Julien’s vocals and group choruses. The bridge contains overlapping repetitions that build up to a cathartic scream. This one is Julien’s. “Emily I’m Sorry” has Phoebe’s narrative writing, describing feelings plainly and regretfully, with muted guitar strums as the main instrumental background, which additionally designates it as a Phoebe song. “True Blue” is a Lucy classic, with one vocal melody backed up by a harmony and poignant lyrics like “you’ve never done me wrong/except for that one time/that we don’t talk about/because it doesn’t matter anymore”. I think there’s even some piano chords in the back, so, in essence, truly a Lucy song.
Verdict: Julien, Phoebe, Lucy
5. Cool About It
“Cool About It” is much more toned down, with mostly just a guitar tune as the backing track. They each have a verse and keep their individual vocal styles in them, but the yearning over a failing love through lyrics like “I can walk you home and practice method acting” is similar to Lucy’s or Phoebe’s style of writing. I think, based off of the writing and the major key sound, I’m going to place this as a Lucy song.
6. Not Strong Enough
This song was the last single released before the album. It comes in heavy with the drums, which signals Julien’s style, but the echoing guitar instrumentals seem to hint at Lucy’s involvement. The bridge repeats the lyric “always an angel, never a god” in a building crescendo, lamenting the inability to become a better person. Though vocally the involvement is fairly equal, I’m going to designate this one as a Julien song.
7. Revolution 0
The lyric “I wanna find who broke your nose/go to their house/and kick their teeth in” feels very much like a Phoebe lyric to me, along with the song’s style of a main vocal melody with a quieter background and drawn out chorus. However, it does have another series of harmonies that build to the song’s climax. Still, I’ll say this one is a Phoebe special.
8. Leonard Cohen
Though more conversational and upbeat, Leonard Cohen’s lyrics are again very much like a narrative. It’s got a great juxtaposition of fun and hard-hitting lyrics, like “I might like you less now that you know me so well” and referring to the song’s namesake as “an old man having an existential crisis/at a Buddhist monastery writing horny poetry”. Though Lucy Dacus is the one singing for most of the song, I think I’m going to decide, based on the song’s overall vibe, that this is a Phoebe song.
This song, about asking friends to stick by you through life’s changes such as becoming a Satanist, continues the album’s recurring themes of platonic love and loyalty, reflecting the band’s origin as well. ‘Satanist’ is really heartwarming, because it reinforces the love all three musicians have for each other – the love that sparked the album. This one is another easy read. From the title, to the almost immediate jump into an upbeat electric sound, all signs point to Julien.
10. We’re In Love
This track is sung mostly by Lucy as well, with earnest lyrics and a very vocal-heavy production with a minor instrumental background, which sounds more like Phoebe, but the vocals and the lyrics remind me of Lucy’s style, which is why I’m assigning this one as a Lucy song.
The penultimate track’s chorus sounds like Phoebe’s style, but the instrumentals, heavier and with a faster tempo, are more reminiscent of Lucy or Julien. Julien’s vocals are most prominent here, and the solemnly regretful lyrics like “making peace with my inevitable death” make me feel like this song is ultimately a Julien song.
12. Letter to an Old Poet
The last track on the album is another slow one, again relying mostly on a vocal harmony and softer instrumentals like piano or violin, which I think is generally Phoebe’s style. The writing holds nothing back, with simple yet effective lyrics like “you’re not special, you’re evil”. This track has elements of ‘Me and My Dog’, a song from boygenius’ self-titled 2018 EP. There are crowd cheers from a performance of that song, as well as lyrical parallels like “I wanna be happy” as compared to “I wanna be emaciated” from ‘Me and My Dog’. Though I think this song leans more towards being a Phoebe song, it’s a great final track that ends the album off on a beautiful note.
Of course, as a disclaimer, I’m just a fan and not a professional, and these songs can be interpreted in many ways. In general, though, each song is clearly a blend of all three of their minds. the record is poignant, filled with love, and ultimately much more than the sum of its parts.
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