There’s been no shortage of praise for the trio known as Boygenius, an American indie supergroup. For those not in the know, Boygenius’ members are Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus. They harmonize well and create reflective, and, at times, hypnotic songs that often feel like ethereal – though the topics of their songs are anything but. Boygenius also has a love of generic terms. Their debut album is called The Record. Their tour was called The Tour, and the film of the tour is called The Film. But their music is not generic, nor are the lyrics. For example, in “Emily, I’m Sorry” Phoebe Bridgers croons I’m twenty-seven and I don’t know who I am/ But I know what I want/Emily, I’m sorry. It’s not exactly a love song, but more like a person at a crossroads. One where – to quote a line from that semi-memorable film, Singles – “Somewhere around 25, bizarre becomes immature.” Maybe in the case of Emily and the narrator, the lyric could mean: “Somewhere around 27, improvising is not an attractive life plan.”
A year after the group’s debut was dubbed an instant classic by NME and even Rolling Stone, the trio released an EP of four songs called The Rest. Of course, these songs were left off The Record, but have found a life on an EP. The question is: is the EP any good? Well, yes. These songs are good, but they don’t break any new ground musically or even lyrically. Indeed, it should be said that these four songs don’t surpass the kind of messed-up narrators who make up the bulk of The Record. On that album, the sometimes subtle quality of the music masked some truly dysfunctional (but also funny) lyrics that centered on nihilism, prescription drug use as a way to know one’s relationship partner, threats of physical violence, and other sunny and optimistic things. Perhaps the genius of The Record lay in those contrasts. On the one hand, the music and vocal phrasing didn’t have hooks like, say, songs by The Chicks, Simon and Garfunkle, or Crosby, Stills, and Nash. On the other, none of those groups could write lyrics like When you fell down the stairs/It looked like it hurt/And I wasn’t sorry/I shoulda left you right there. Yeah, there’s a real anarchist and misanthropic streak that’s dominant in the Boygenius world.
On The Rest, those surprises aren’t as delightfully shocking, except for “Afraid of Heights” – possibly the best song on the EP. The way in which death is treated throughout the song is effective in that there’s one person who clearly wants to live (I don’t wanna live forever/But I don’t wanna die tonight) while the other loves living on the knife’s edge (When the black water ate you up/Like a sugar cube in a teacup/I got the point you were makin’/When I held my breath ’til you came up). The EP’s exploration of dysfunctional relationships continues on ‘Voyager” (Then there are nights you say you don’t remember/When you stepped on the gas and you asked if I’m ready to die/You thought I’d never leave and I let you believe you were right). However, the fun in the dysfunctional journey ends with that song. The final track, “Powers” could be a tale of superpowers, but, considering the group’s lyrical focus is on relationships, it’s likely a larger metaphor for falling for someone – or the blinding ecstasy of love. It’s difficult to know with Boygenius since their worldview (if taken literally) is often a bleak one. But, we do live in bleak times and it can be a challenge to truly feel hopeful and even optimistic about the future of relationships when they are mired in mayhem.