The Record review | boygenius’ debut album is the pinnacle of Bridgers, Dacus and Baker

Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers are even better than the sum of their parts on boygenius’ debut album, The Record.


Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Simon and Garfunkel; the one time Joni Mitchell, Mama Cass and Mary Travers came together; sometimes great things can be made even greater when they join forces. Whilst it could be feared that such a union could cause a chaos of everyone trying to outdo each other (or even hold back their best for their solo work), this is not the case with boygenius.

In fact, Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers are even better than the sum of their parts, with boygenius’ debut album The Record somehow managing to be a greatest hits album for all three of them.

As the trio’s debut LP, it’s been long-awaited since 2018’s self-titled EP – a stunning outing from three immensely talented up-and-coming talents. Now, firmly placed as three of this generation’s finest – each with major fan bases, critical acclaim and a distinctive sound you could easily pick out of a line-up – The Record is all the better for their growth. But they don’t really drag all that along with them.

Launching with ‘Without You Without Them’, the three artists come together with an a-capella rendition as you can almost feel them laying down the weight of their individual artistic identities. Stripping it right back the three of them are a harmonious trio; and as we rage into ‘$20’, there’s no doubting whatsoever that boygenius are a band.

boygenius The Record review

In fact, I think the three of them being band as always had something inevitable about it. Merging together so perfectly, on the first three tracks – ‘$20’, ‘Emily I’m Sorry’ and ‘True Blue’, released as the first three teasers – bear clear signs of Julien, Phoebe and Lucy’s individual style (in that exact order in fact), but never collapse too much into one or the other.

Seemingly taking it in turns to take centre stage, they seem to recognise the centre as a place of vulnerability and let the others hold them up. It’s significant that ‘Emily I’m Sorry’ appears here; a track seemingly dedicated to friend Emily Bannon, making it a massively personal outing for Phoebe – which could well have been saved for her solo work.

As the harmonies come in, maybe that helping hand from Lucy and Julien, both musically and emotionally, is exactly why it’s here. This is an ethos extended to ‘True Blue’, as they sing “it feels good to be known so well, I can’t hide from you like I hide from myself”; maybe boygenius is a kind of emotional support group, letting each member be at their lyrical best, their most vulnerable, and by extension their bravest; knowing the other two are right there, holding on tight so they can lean further into their art.

From start to finish, you get the feeling these tracks are the best each has to offer; ‘Cool About It’ by far beats Julien’s ‘Appointments’, ‘Revolution 0’ easily rivals Phoebe’s ‘Moon Song’ and ‘We’re In Love’ is a lyrical best for Lucy Dacus. As Lucy sings about doing karaoke to each other’s songs, it seems their mutual obsession fosters an environment where they’re keenly aware of each other’s strengths and limits, ebbing and flowing into the best of them all. And as they join together on true band tracks like ‘Not Strong Enough’ and ‘Satanist’, they’re a natural trio, with voices that harmonise how sister’s voices magically seem to.


Photo: Harrison Whitford

Sonically, they’ve replicated the full-range beauty of their self-titled EP. Moving between the full band indie-rock glory of ‘$20’ to the vocal heavy ‘Leonard Cohen’, even the quieter songs come across as rich and luscious, their voices whispering into your ears. The production is flawless, feeling like a real labour of love by the whole team. It’s not overdone or overthought.

With each other to bear witness to their work, it’s as though the three stop each other from over-editing, ensuring true gut-wrenchers or even silly sentimentality thrive unaffected by individual doubt.

The finest examples of which being a subtle Taylor Swift lyric in ‘We’re In Love’ or the remarkable few lines of: “Leonard Cohen once said there’s a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in and I am not an old man having an existential crisis at a Buddhist monastery writing horny poetry but I agree”. (Such imagery rouses a giggle only boygenius could foster amidst all the heartache).

The Record reaches new highs for not only boygenius, but truly for all three of the artists – confirmed by the finale track ‘Letter To An Old Poem’, a track that truly floored me upon first listen. Starting simply as a tale of bad love, somehow making lyrics like “I love you, I don’t know why but I do” feel profound and new again, like we’re hearing someone say these things for the first time.

A bit beyond the minute mark, a familiar tune starts creeping in, rewriting beloved EP track ‘Me & My Dog’. But instead of “emaciated”, this time round when the song climaxes, the trio sing “I wanna be happy, I’m ready”, in a lyrical switch-up that genuinely brought a tear to my eye. Rewriting better and healthier visions for each other, The Record is made with such palpable love and respect; this finale is the trio coming together, taking well-deserved musical bows and then giving each other a hug.

Faultless from start to finish, the long-awaited album more than lives up to expectations. With nothing more to say to try and convey the way this album made me feel, I’ll just reiterate my introduction; boygenius is bigger and better than the sum of its parts, and The Record is the finest work of three of this generation’s finest – made better, stronger and bolder by their love for each other.

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