The New Releases Shelf — The Record

I totally get that the name of the band comprised of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus is a spectacularly snide joke, a jab at the effusive superlative of brilliance often bestowed upon young males with even the slightest hint of precocious talent. But, you know, I’m starting to believe that genius is the only proper way to describe the output of this collective, whether individually or together.

In the roughly five years between the self-titled debut EP by boygenius and their first full-length, cleverly titled The Record, each of the superdupergroup’s member’s has ascended precipitously in artistic achievement and associated acclaim. They were hardly mysterious unknowns at the time of that first release; each had at least one studio album to her credit. Bridgers can been a particularly canny usurper of the spotlight, rarely going more than a couple weeks without some attention-getting something in the three years since the release of her extraordinary sophomore outing, Punisher. That sense of dazzling showmanship has been present in the rollout of The Record, with the little teases of their reunion, the Nirvana-tribute Rolling Stone cover weeks before the album hit shelves, and the bazooka blast of the first three advance cuts coming at once, each one bearing the unmistakable fingerprints of one of the three accomplished artists on the roster.

The Record is sequenced in accordance with that rollout. The album opens with the lovely, a capella “Without You Without Them,” a greeting of shared independence in elegant harmony before knocking off those first three advance tracks — the brash, powerful Baker composition “$20,” the Bridgers-penned echo of Punisher that is “Emily, I’m Sorry,” and Dacus’s smart, easy swirl “True Blue.” Starting with the familiar — both in terms of the preceding release of the cuts and their closeness to the respective writers’ solo works — is a reassuring reminder of why each of them is so exciting in their own right, which in turns heightens the thrill that they work together with such clear affection and mutual appreciation. I’m not sure if they make one other stronger in the collaboration, but they definitely don’t shirk within the group either. No one wants to let down the team.

To the degree that we who listen are part of the team — and one of the great skills of each of the trio is the way their songs feel like confessions offered with aching trust — there’s a obvious commitment to keeping up from feeling disappointment, too. The Record is nothing but gems. Most are poignant, some are playful, and every last one is, in its own way, a powerhouse. Each performer gets at least a couple cuts of prime prominence, and none outpaces her kinswomen. Bridgers probably remains most distinctive, delivering songs with her trademark steely fragility, such as “Revolution 0” (“If it isn’t love/ Then what the fuck is it?”) and “Letter to an Old Poet,” the latter of which has the brand of wispily sung scathing putdowns familiar to the Phoebe faithful “You’re not special, you’re evil/ You don’t get to tell me to calm down/ You make me feel like an equal/ But I’m better than you.” The songs structured more as shared showcases are understandably the most immediate and insistent in their appeal: the lolling melancholy of “Not Strong Enough,” the Paul Simon–riffing “Cool About It,” and the punchy mischief of “Satanist.”

The only disappointment of The Record is that it’s sure to be a while before it gets a follow-up. After all, Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus have the own separate careers to get back to. Cherish the time when they make beautiful music together.

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