ABOVE THE CURRENT
Five years ago after a joint tour, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus teamed up to release an impressive debut EP together as boygenius. Now, the songwriter supergroup is finally dropping their debut album, cheekily titled the record. That title may be lowercase for style, but it’s certainly giving uppercase feelings. This full-length continually kicks itself out of a pandemic malaise for anyone tired of burnout days and spiraling nights. It screams out its manic heartaches (compliments to Bridgers on that one). It unrolls stories with a quiet resonance (Dacus). It also just plain rips as an indie-rock record when we really needed one that cuts out the nonsense and gets back to concrete storytelling (Baker).
The album begins with a beautiful vocals-only track, “Without You Without Them.” It speaks to the mysterious power of family—whether biological or based on community bonds, like boygenius itself. Time wears on all, and the trio writes about these experiences quite well. The first track is also just a nice connecting piece to where the group’s debut self-titled EP left off with “Ketchum, ID.” The folk streaks continue later on with the banjo-led “Cool About It,” where each singer takes a turn at the mic.
The full-band tour de force “Not Strong Enough” is one of the best tracks on the record. Each artist trades off on harmonies and solos throughout, but the song drags you in from the very beginning with a verse sung by Bridgers. The lyrics conjure up an otherworldly scene with phrases such as “black hole opened in the kitchen” and “stop staring at the ceiling fan” conveying a picture of a mind stuck in the eddying waters of depression and anxiety. The bridge drives home those feelings of guilt and shame with such a simple repeated line: “Always an angel, never a god.” It wraps up that tangled feeling of being dragged down by the darkest recesses of your mind, but the delivery of those lines by a trio of strong voices hints at a glimmer of hope. The song sounds like a light shining through the cracks of old pains.
The acoustic track “Revolution” also has lyrics that immediately set each scene. Bridgers sings, “I don’t want to die / That’s a lie / But I’m afraid to get sick / I don’t know what that is.” The group joins her for the subsequent wordless responses. It’s the same whirl of second-guessing oneself, and a common theme throughout the record is a reliance on support systems to be the ones that drop a rope down to lift you back up. “True Blue” also taps into the notion of true friends seeing the different phases of yourself through your life as you struggle together or apart. Building off those songs, Baker wanted more guitar riffs on the album and her additions to the tracklist bear that out (the rollicking early single “$20,” late album track “Anti-Curse,” and parts of the crunching ’90s alt-rocker “Satanist”).
Taking it as one artistic statement is a foolhardy endeavor. the record serves as a series of incandescent reminders of each musical superpower from the trio—Baker’s electric guitar theatrics (“Satinist”) warp each song with a revelatory spirit; Dacus continues to demonstrate her ability as a songwriter to build out scenes with true psychological locomotion (“Leonard Cohen”); and Bridgers’ stirring, raw-nerve lyrics (“Letter to an Old Poet”) dress down each character’s fuck-around-and-find-out baggage. The merits of boygenius were apparent from the trio’s first appetizer EP, but the record still manages to feel like only the first course of a much larger feast.