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boygenius - boygenius

by Mark Moody Rating:8 Release Date:2018-11-09
boygenius - boygenius
boygenius - boygenius

Ranging from Julien Baker’s 2015 Sprained Ankle to Lucy Dacus’ Historian of this year with Phoebe Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps sandwiched in between, the three songwriters have produced some of the most devastating, nostalgic and witty songs of the past few years.    When news broke of the three joining forces for a tour and EP, filed under the name boygenius, it was definitely cause for celebration.  Each of the artists brought a fully formed song, as well as one in progress, to their recording sessions.  

Given the talent on hand, it’s not at all surprising that the songs benefit from the collaborative process.  There are several tracks where traded lines and shared songwriting duties create magical moments and the melding of distinctly different voices takes things to a higher plane.  This is nowhere more apparent than on the gentle sketch of a close ‘Ketchum, ID’.  The song announces itself clearly as one of Bridgers’, but a work in progress that she lets her compadres complete.  How Bridgers conveys a mix of sorrow with nostalgia at not even a quarter century old shows wisdom beyond her years (her ‘Scott Street’ from Stranger may just be one of the best songs of the past few decades).  A simple line like “I would walk around, but it’s really coming down”, as the antithesis of ‘Walking on Sunshine’, speaks volumes about isolation that paragraphs could not achieve.  As heart-tugging as the opening few lines are, when Baker and Dacus join in on the chorus the song becomes otherworldly.  Baker clearly knows her way around a hymn, which is where she takes the harmonies.  And if Dacus has the most powerful voice of the three, her unadorned verse may be the loveliest.

Baker’s songs are coupled together and provide the ballast for the EP as a whole.  ‘Stay Down’, with its line “I look at you and you look at a screen”, is patented Baker, while the sparer ‘Souvenir’ benefits from the group approach.  Dacus’ clear-eyed and carefully constructed pair of songs show a continuation from the brilliant Historian.  Baker’s voice interlaced with hers gives ‘Bite the Hand’ added pop and Baker’s verse on ‘Salt in the Wound’ shows these two as a powerful combination.  Bridgers’ other contribution, ‘Me & My Dog’ as opener, quickly allays any concern that Stranger may have been some one-off fluky masterpiece.  Baker and Dacus ably supplant Bridgers’ everyday companions on the choruses.

There were some other talented singer/songwriters a few years back that teamed up much later in their careers and elevated themselves beyond the cheeseball late eighties fare of the day.  Regardless of genre, Dolly Parton, is an unparalleled songwriter with an amazing voice. Emmylou Harris can still make you cry on the opening bars of a song.  While their West Coast cousin, Linda Ronstadt, knew how to get right to the heart of a melody.  That trio teamed up again a bit further down the road, so we can hope that Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus do the same.  Amazingly talented on their own and obviously supportive of each others strengths, that their paths crossed as early as they did is its own reward.  The fact that the shared songs and harmonies couple so well is genius defined.

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