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Supergroup boygenius Sounds Like the Future of Indie

On the first tracks from their collaborative EP, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus explore new parts of their distinctive artistry.

by Lauren O'Neill
23 August 2018, 12:02am

Image by Lera Pentelute via PR

We’re existing in an unparalleled moment for young women making a specific type of sensitive, self-aware guitar music. If you've missed it so far, welcome! Evocative portraits of inward emotion are paired with earworm melodies and, in many cases, what can only be described as Fucking Riffs, in this blossoming corner of music. As a longtime fan of the style, I can rarely recall a time when I was so spoiled for choice for the music to soundtrack activities like disinterestedly swiping dating apps or getting crumbs down my top in bed. This year alone has seen prodigiously accomplished debuts from Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy, and a new LP from feelings queen Mitski, with more to come in the next few months from Allison and Katie Crutchfield via their respective projects Swearin’ and Waxahatchee.

Of course, three significant names are missing from that paragraph. Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus have released three of the most critically acclaimed indie albums of the last year (Bridgers and Baker in September and October 2017, and Dacus this March). They’ve been tour-mates in the past, their sounds complimenting each other and wooing audiences in the process. And on Tuesday, they answered the prayers of saddos who cry on the bus everywhere: They’ve started a band, and they’ve called it, blessedly, boygenius, launching with the release of three songs from a six track EP, due out on 9 November.

Knowing how these musicians work, boygenius makes total sense. Late last year, when talking about the palpable sense of a burgeoning rock scene populated by young women, Bridgers told me about the camaraderie between her and her peers: “It feels really energetic, the vibe, and the desire to say 'fuck you' to the patriarchy and all support each other." It follows, then, that picking up instruments in unison, saying “fuck it,” and starting a supergroup would be very much in the spirit of this new, unassuming guard of indie solo artists.

The music – where all three distinctive artists retain what makes them unique, while wilfully venturing into a new and collective space – seems to prove this point. As Owen Myers writes for Pitchfork: “There’s a generosity to the way each artist bends their style in collaboration," able to "share space on every song, helping bolster each others’ sounds while broadening the scope of their own”. We see that in the way that the Bridgers-led “Me & My Dog” incorporates Baker’s signature organ, and in the textures that Dacus’ low, melancholic harmonies lend to Baker and Bridgers’ higher ranges, particularly on “Stay Down.” You can hear the give-and-take in the reedy, more Bridgers-esque guitars at the beginning of “Bite the Hand,” the Dacus-starring track, and in the songs’ overarching lyrical style that seems to focus in on the three musicians’ shared knack for bottling emotion in specific phrases and images.

And while Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus have all clearly affected each other’s processes here, there’s also something to be said for what else has influenced them. These tracks sound to me like if Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy” was a band that grew up emo. Crow’s stamp lingers over these songs. For a while, she has appeared as something of a beloved figure with a number of the musicians I’ve mentioned here (Bridgers has covered her music alongside Soccer Mommy, as have Snail Mail and Waxahatchee in tandem), and you can hear whispers of her influence on these boygenius tracks, especially in the buoyant lift of each chorus. Crow’s choruses frequently see her get to the crux of what she wants to say (both musically and lyrically), and the same is true here. Each artist uses her chorus – lent further heft by her bandmates singing back-up – as a revelatory turning point. It’s a great formula put to potent work here, with each songwriter seemingly stretched by her creative surroundings.

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As a phrase, “supergroup” practically triggers an automatic eye roll for me – visions of legacy rockstars (almost always male) wearing black and posing for awful press shots flit across my brain whenever I hear it. But in describing boygenius, its use feels not only appropriate, but defiant. In this capable and cohesive set of tracks, Baker, Bridgers and Dacus smirk in the face of a canonical guitar music mindset that would still malign them, and provide an insight into the future of rock – a genre that could, and should, be much more open to collaboration and the rich, layered delights that such unions can produce.

You can find Lauren crying to "Me & My Dog" on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.