Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus come together to multiply their individual abilities to reach their listeners.
[This review is the debut at My Spilt Milk for new contributor Marisa Clogher.]
“I never said I’d be alright/ Just thought I could hold myself together.”
Powerhouses Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus have separately earned spots at the forefront of the indie folk scene but are now collaborating in a new supergroup boygenius, which has released three singles in anticipation of their upcoming EP and tour dates. Each single highlights one member of the gut-wrenching trio, and all presenting the same devastatingly honest lyrics that the three are known for individually. What Baker, Bridgers and Dacus capture so skillfully is an in-between sadness that holds so many of us hostage. We don’t walk away with answers or a cure, but we do get a better understanding of our own sadness and the comfort that someone out there understands us.
The three have a reputation for creating music that makes people cry, but to paint it only as that is hasty and misses the real power of their work. It isn’t difficult to elicit sadness in a time when it’s everywhere we look, but it’s much harder to make a listener want to stay alive and try through a sadness that we know deep down may never really go away. It’s a feat they achieve time and time again. Their songs lay out the type of sadness that is constant and often unfounded, but their honesty to the persistence of depression, and to their commitment to finding the moments of stability, however brief, is what distinguishes them.
The standout single is “Me & My Dog” which features Bridgers on lead vocals. The song wastes no time, beginning, “We had a great day / Even though we forgot to eat / And you had a bad dream / Then we got no sleep / 'Cause we were kissing.” An opener that immediately throws the listener into the same agitated state that Bridgers depicts. The power of these artists is their ability to highlight their softest, most vulnerable feelings for their listeners, giving us space to unclench and weep with them and with ourselves, a feat that this song’s chorus accomplishes masterfully. Baker and Dacus join Bridgers, singing “I never said I’d be alright / Just thought I could hold myself together.” Here they admit that they aren’t necessarily okay, and it gives us room to admit that we might not be either. There is comfort in this honesty.
All three are skilled technical musicians and utilize their voices as their most powerful instruments. Bridgers’ voice is haunting and steady, conveying an almost childlike vulnerability, while also leaving the listener feeling as though they’re sitting calmly at the bottom of a swimming pool staring up at broken sunlight. Hers is the perfect voice to carry the lyrics gently, holding your hand through the verses until the chorus erupts and the words shatter in the pit of your stomach. Her voice reaches its most powerful in the lines, “I wanna be emaciated / I wanna hear one song without thinking of you” with Baker and Dacus joining. Baker’s voice is the most desperate of the three, and hers shoots to the foreground momentarily, bringing the listener briefly to the edge, while Dacus’ voice grounds the three subtly so the listener is able to maintain a level of composure.
The listener is stretched and stabilized through their range of voices, keeping us firmly in a state of in-betweenness that feels intentional. Their lyrics, expressivity, and melody weave together to give face to the most frustrating and lonely parts of our brains, which makes those parts slightly less frustrating and lonely. This type of reckoning is what keeps us honest with ourselves, and this honesty with ourselves is what keeps us alive.
The song ends, “And I wake up falling,” a line that feels like it should lead to a conclusion beyond falling, but sometimes there aren’t conclusions beyond falling, so we stay falling, hoping to land somewhere eventually.