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If one thing is certain, “the record” is not just any record. boygenius released their debut album, “the record” on March 31, packaging a myriad of stories and sensations surrounding monumental heartbreak into 42 minutes of indie gold. Bandmates Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus expand their earlier work with fresh takes on themes of guilt, identity, trust, and honesty in what is their best release yet.
In their first full-length album, boygenius combines the strengths of each band member to convey complex perspectives on love which eventually resolve themselves into an acceptance of self and reality. The emotional intricacy of “the record” directly relies on their seamless melding of each musician’s distinct lyricism and musical style, demonstrating major growth from their self-titled album released in 2018.
Bridgers takes the lead with the third track, “Emily I’m Sorry,” narrating a desperate and guilt-ridden apology to a lover. Released as a single in January of 2023, “Emily I’m Sorry” was an impressive teaser for the rest of “the record.” Baker’s strong guitar riffs from track two are replaced with the ambient layered instrumentation characteristic of Bridgers’s distinct “underwater” sound. This successfully plays to Bridgers’s personal strengths and sets the stage for the rest of the album’s masterpiece.
Bridgers begins the song caught in a lie meant to impress her lover, and initially tries to reason. As the song continues, Bridgers reveals that she has completely lost herself trying to love someone who cannot be appeased. Bridgers continues harping on her failing relationship and ends the song with a final attempt at bargaining: “Emily, forgive me, can we / Make it up as we go along? / I’m twenty-seven and I don’t know who I am / But I know what I want,” Bridgers sings. The lyrics, backed by a soft harmony from Baker and Dacus, detail the narrator’s gut-wrenching realization that they have unintentionally hurt the person they care about most and rejected their own authentic self in the process.
Dacus presents a different take on what it means to be understood in the fourth song, “True Blue.” A catchy guitar line and drums along with background vocals in a major key portray a positive outlook: Dacus sings, “And it feels good to be known so well / I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself.” For many, love is most deeply felt through wholly understanding another person, but Dacus reminds us that this vulnerability does not come without risk. “You already hurt my feelings three times / In the way only you could,” the singer relates.
The folk elements in “Cool About It” reminisce on the sounds from boygenius’s first release with equally devastating lyrics. The women return to their patterned songwriting, allowing each musician to lead their own verse within the song to develop a well-rounded depiction of the different forms of pain that manifest from hiding one’s true feelings. Baker opens with a desire to move on from a past-lover, by whatever means necessary: “Telling myself I can always do without it / Knowing that it probably isn’t true.” Dacus repeats this in a different context, singing about the desire for closure and an apology from a past lover. The background vocals dip off as Bridgers closes the song, concealing overwhelming feelings of love and concern for her partner: “I can walk you home and practice method acting / I’ll pretend bein’ with you doesn’t feel like drowning.” Each interpretation of this pain is different, but the repeated rhythm and guitar melody connect their verses into a cohesive whole.
The following tracks expand on depictions of fear and uncertainty in love and relationships, closing out with some of boygenius’s most devastating songs. As Dacus sings “We’re In Love,” she returns to themes of conditional love and ties it all together in the ultimate love ballad for the anxious minded. Soft piano and acoustic guitar support her heart-wrenching vocals, providing a gentle accompaniment that doesn’t overshadow the fragility of her voice. “You could absolutely break my heart / That’s how I know we’re in love,” she sings. Though the songs are not directly related, the narrator seems to have finally accepted that the nature of being fully invested in a relationship risks the possibility of being hurt.
If the previous songs on “the record” have not emotionally ruined listeners by now, boygenius finishes with “Letter To An Old Poet” — a song which promises emotional devastation from the first lyric. For older fans of boygenius, the tune is all too familiar. The band repurposes the melody and lyrics of their song “Me & My Dog,” replacing devastating lines with a hopeful approach. Originally, boygenius expressed their desperation for closure and inner peace. “I wanna be emaciated / I wanna hear one song without thinking of you,” the end of the song plays. Contrastingly, in “Letter To An Old Poet,” Bridgers presents an alternate take that reflects an optimistic desire to seek inner peace separate from a toxic lover: “I wanna be happy / I’m ready to walk into my room without lookin’ for you.” Though the women acknowledge that they have not yet found this closure, they are determined to achieve it for their own sake.
The maturation of Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus in their individual careers equipped them with the experience and refined talent needed to come together and produce an album that showcases their unified musical genius. The debut album reflects boygenius’s growth while staying true to their original sound, supplying references to their previous work that will be appreciated by old fans. For listeners new to the band, “the record” provides a look into the wide spectrum of musicality that the women have mastered.
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