Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez
The last time Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus recorded together on their 2018 boygenius EP, they had just started their individual solo careers. As the three best friends reunite in the studio five years later, they have all, individually, climbed to the elite of the singer-songwriter scene. Their latest solo records – Phoebe’s Punisher, Lucy’s Home Video, and Julien’s Little Oblivions – were met with critical acclaim, praised for their intriguing poetry and captivating melodies.
The Record, the super trio’s first full-length album, begins with the acapella lullaby of “Without You Without Them,” strengthening their bond not only as musicians but as best buds. When the record begins for real on the following “$20,” it’s Julien Baker taking the lead. With a simple yet efficient guitar riff, the song marches forward progressively towards the emotional breaking point, where Phoebe steps in to deliver some of her gut-wrenching emotional outlets – yes, get ready to scream again. It’s an exciting opening to an album that was never really meant to surprise but rather gives us an idea of just how far the three similarly aged ladies have come since their EP.
Phoebe and Lucy then follow with two songs typical of their trademark sounds. “Emily I’m Sorry” is a dazzling, vibrating acoustic ballad about Phoebe’s relationship with voice actress Emily Bannon, reminiscent of the softer moments from Punisher. Lucy’s “True Blue” works as a response to the previous track, offering an outside view of the complicated situation Phoebe put herself in as she rose to fame during the last few years. It’s a revealing insight into a private life kept relatively secret to fans. Julien’s back with the baton in her hand on the Simon & Garfunkel-inspired “Cool About It,” as Phoebe’s three verses give us the record’s most touching lyrics with, “Once I took your medication to know what it’s like // and now I have to act like I can’t read your mind // I ask you how you’re doing and I let you lie.”
However, it’s on the sixth track that the super trio format reaches its full potential. “Not Strong Enough” is not only the most radio-friendly song here but also the most strikingly relatable. Julien, Phoebe, and Lucy share singing duties as the lyrics deal with a lack of self-confidence and norms, while Carla Azar’s perfectly paced drums push the song forward. It is the best song the boygenius collaboration has ever resulted in, ending the first side of the record with a phenomenal crowd-pleaser.
Unfortunately from here, The Record goes downhill. The B-side is dominated by squeamish balladry and generic indie rockers that won’t quite let up. Phoebe’s “Revolution 0” is a thinner version of “Moon Song,” and the album-ending “Letter to an Old Poet” is a relatively insipid ending to an album that would have deserved more than a few pretty lines and a yawn. Amongst the album’s latter tracks the only standout is Julien’s “Anti-Curse,” but the similarities to “Salt In the Wound” from their debut EP are almost ridiculously striking.
A quick look at the streaming figures clearly reveals who’s the star of this band. However, here, Phoebe takes a step back from her dramatic woes. Instead, Julien Baker steals the show. Where Lucy and Phoebe sometimes might sound pretentious and self-indulgent, Julien has an earnest presence and a genuineness that outdoes most singer-songwriters in the game. Her baffling guitar work is unfortunately absent here, but her qualities as a singer are just as impressive. The Record ultimately manages to be both somewhat of a disappointment and a success. But when the 44 minutes are over, it’s Julien that you will want to hear again. And again.