Review: ‘the record’ demonstrates the power of pain and friendship

Three of today’s best indie artists come together once again to release an album that captures companionship and vulnerability.


Max Van Hosen

(Illustration by Max Van Hosen)

Ana Marks, Contributing Writer

In 2018, indie royalty Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker joined forces to create the supergroup “boygenius.” Two-thirds of the group’s members had initially connected over their love of books, with Dacus and Baker bonding over “The Portrait of a Lady.” Bridgers was introduced into the mix later due to the fact that the three were going to tour together later that year. As Bridgers told Vogue in 2018, “The tour came first and then we were like, why not record like a seven inch for tour promotion?” And thus, an unexpected yet all-powerful musical trio was born.

The group released a self-titled EP the year it was formed, and it was easy to see why it was so successful. The individual artists’ talents came together to create an album that fans and critics alike connected with. Bridgers’ rock guitar with soft vocals, Baker’s powerful voice and heavy minor key production, and Dacus’ alternative-country guitar riffs and dulcet tone created a powerhouse that the indie-rock scene was not ready for. The shared theme of heartbreak and growth that transcends their own individual discographies was evident in their lyricism as a group.

In between the 2018 EP release and the 2023 announcement of the band’s new album, boygenius made what many have considered its best work. Among these releases are Bridgers’ acclaimed, Grammy-nominated album, “Punisher,” and Dacus’ unsparing indie rock record, “Home Video.”

“the record” opens with an a cappella, call-and-response-style song titled “Without You Without Them,” which shows off the group’s beautiful harmonies and serves as a perfect introduction to the rest of the album. The group poses the question, “Who would I be without you, without them?During this reflection, not only are the band members viewing their past relationships as a means to understand how they have been shaped into who they are, but also how they operate as a group of friends. The artists’ friendship is at the core of the album, and stands through lyrics of heartbreak, death and growing up.

The central theme of unity on the album is evident throughout the singers’ performances as well. Some tracks on “the record” have a singular lead vocal, but the other two cut to fill in the space with beautiful harmonies. They never sound like mere backup singers, but rather a support system for one another. The build to the bridge in “Not Strong Enough” begins with Dacus, and then Bridgers and Baker join in. The song is a self-reflection on the vulnerability that comes with being in a relationship, and how the musicians’ baggage does not allow them to fully show up as partners.

Many tracks on the album are personal stories from the artists. “Leonard Cohen,” for example, references an occasion in which Bridgers showed Baker and Dacus a song while they were driving, and how she was so enchanted by it she forgot to follow the GPS. Baker also contributes a vulnerable memory to the album. In “Anti-Curse,” she recalls the time she almost drowned while in Malibu, using the song as a means to ponder the prospect of dying. Though some of these tracks are personal to only one particular member of the band, the group collaborates to enhance the music’s power as a manifestation of their friendship. Dacus leads on the beautiful ballad “We’re In Love,” which is said to be a love song for Baker and Bridgers. She begs them to always have her in their lives, asking, “If you rewrite your life, may I still play a part?”

The growth from their self-titled EP to this newest release is stunning as well. Not only is there a more developed sound that blends indie and rock, but also a development of the artists as people. The group members have individually received acclamations for their autobiographical bodies of work, specifically Dacus for “Home Video” and Baker for “Sprained Ankle.”

The three singer-songwriters bare all of their emotions on the track “Me & My Dog” on their 2018 EP, when Bridgers details the pain of being in an unhealthy relationship, when all she wanted to do was disappear. On the final track of “the record,” Bridgers recognizes that she’s hurt, and that she doesn’t want to feel that way any more. The end of the record sounds like an expression of relief. To mirror the “Me & My Dog” outro, the trio sing, “I wanna be happy / I’m ready to walk into my room without lookin’ for you / I’ll go up to the top of our building / And remember my dog when I see the full moon / I can’t feel it yet / But I am waiting.”

“the record” is a stunning demonstration of what each member does best. The individual lyricism from each artist makes it evident that their manner of friendship and collaboration allows them to exceed listeners’ expectations. While each of the three members will continue to make music on their own and find their voice and sound as they grow, boygenius has shown its own growth with this beautiful tribute to platonic love and self-care.

Contact Ana Marks at [email protected].