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Emily I'm Sorry

the record


Released 31 March 2023

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a description of boygenius that doesn’t contain the word “supergroup”, but it somehow doesn’t quite sit right. Blame decades of hoary prog-rock baggage, blame the misbegotten notion that bigger and more must be better, blame a culture that is rightfully circumspect about anything that feels like overpromising, blame Chickenfoot and Audioslave. But the sentiment certainly fits: Teaming three generational talents at the height of their powers on a project that is somehow more than the sum of its considerable parts sounds like it was dreamed up in a boardroom, but would never work if it had been.

In fall 2018, Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker released a self-titled six-song EP as boygenius that felt a bit like a lark—three of indie’s brightest, most charismatic artists at their loosest. Since then, each has released a career-peak album (Punisher, Home Video and Little Oblivions, respectively) that transcended whatever indie means now and placed them in the pantheon of American songwriters, full stop. These parallel concurrent experiences raise the stakes of a kinship and a friendship; only the other two could truly understand what each was going through, only the other two could mount any true creative challenge or inspiration. Stepping away from their ascendant solo paths to commit to this so fully is as much a musical statement as it is one about how they want to use this lightning-in-a-bottle moment. If boygenius was a lark, the record is a flex.

Opening track “Without You Without Them” features all three voices harmonising a cappella and feels like a statement of intent. While Bridgers’ profile may be demonstrably higher than Dacus’ or Baker’s, no one is out in front here or taking up extra oxygen; this is a proper three-headed hydra. It doesn’t sound like any of their own albums but does sound like an album only the three of them could make.

Hallmarks of each’s songwriting style abound: There’s the slow-building climactic refrain of “Not Strong Enough” (“Always an angel, never a god”) which recalls the high drama of Baker’s “Sour Breath” and “Turn Out the Lights”. On “Emily I’m Sorry”, “Revolution 0” and “Letter to an Old Poet”, Bridgers delivers characteristically devastating lines in a hushed voice that belies its venom. Dacus draws “Leonard Cohen” so dense with detail in less than two minutes that you feel like you’re on the road trip with her and her closest friends, so lost in one another that you don’t mind missing your exit.

As with the EP, most songs feature one of the three taking the lead, but the record is at its most fully realised when they play off each other, trading verses and ideas within the same song. The subdued, acoustic “Cool About It” offers three different takes on having to see an ex; “Not Strong Enough” is breezy power-pop that serves as a repudiation of Sheryl Crow’s confidence (“I’m not strong enough to be your man”). “Satanist” is the heaviest song on the album, sonically, if not emotionally; over a riff with solid Toadies “Possum Kingdom” vibes, Baker, Bridgers and Dacus take turns singing the praises of satanism, anarchy and nihilism, and it’s just fun.

Despite a long tradition of high-wattage full-length star team-ups in pop history, there’s no real analogue for what boygenius pull off here. The closest might be Crosby, Stills & Nash—the EP’s couchbound cover photo is a wink to their 1969 debut—but that name doesn’t exactly evoke feelings of friendship and fellowship more than 50 years later. (It does, however, evoke that time Bridgers called David Crosby a “little bitch” on Twitter after he chastised her for smashing her guitar on SNL.) Their genuine closeness is deeply relatable, but their chemistry and talent simply aren’t. It’s nearly impossible for a collaboration like this to not feel cynical or calculated or tossed off for laughs. If three established artists excelling at what they are great at, together, without sacrificing a single bit of themselves, were so easy to do, more would try.

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