When ‘the record’ arrived at the end of March, it was met with relief from boygenius fans who’d feared 2018’s self-titled EP would be the only output from the supergroup. Ominously branded ‘the rest’, it’s uncertain whether this follow-up offering is simply the remaining tracks penned during their album cycle, or if the end finally is nigh.
As always, the fingerprints of all three band members are visible on this EP. Each a cult powerhouse in their own right, Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers take turns at being centre stage, yet still find cohesion in the amalgamation of their sounds. It’s Baker who takes the reins for ‘Black Hole’, the record’s first outing – a faintly glitching, rumbling landscape of piano and guitar to echo the “rainstorm” she describes. Baker’s writing in particular is identifiable for its texture, and while she doesn’t reach for the belting, guttural choruses she’s so good at, it’s still a suitably moody opener. Bridgers and Dacus show up to deliver solemn and somewhat macabre well wishes on the bridge, including the not particularly comforting line: “It’s out of your hands but / have a / safe flight”.
‘Afraid Of Heights’, Lucy’s epilogue, is a gently melancholic second track. Syncopated guitar bounces over minor synths and harmonies as she describes an unsettling relationship. Her lyrics, characteristically, are ready to be lapped up by all good wine-drunk afterparty goers in the throes of existentialism, with such gems as “one man’s dream is another man’s death”, and “I wanna live a vibrant life / but I wanna die a boring death”. Following that, the eerie beginnings of ‘Voyager’ – where fuzzy vocalisation swims over its own echoes – is obviously Phoebe’s turn up front. Anyone of a melodramatic persuasion may well imagine the misty opening shot of a horror film, though Bridgers sets the scene a little differently: “It’s a hundred and three / in the valley / black tar is melting / on our shoes”.
Layering finger picked-guitar over atmospheric synths means ‘Voyager’ would be pretty inconspicuous among the ‘Punisher’ tracklist. Indeed, everywhere ‘the rest’ feels less collaborative than ‘the record,’ and more about celebrating the three of them as friends. There’s a portion of their live set – arguably the most moving of the evening – where they each play a song of their own: Dacus’ ‘Please Stay’, Bridgers’ ‘Graceland Too’ and Baker’s ‘Favor’. Much of this EP feels like a less emotionally-charged version of that segment.
Bringing up the rear, ‘Power’ is immediately recognisable – even without the sigh – as a second Baker song. After the delicate touch of ‘Voyager’ the guitar on ‘Power’ feels agitated; it builds later into a semi-apocalyptic storm, with Baker’s vocals at its centre. The inclusion of this song seems curious – Bridgers and Dacus only headline one track each, so why does Baker get an encore? But then, by way of explanation, the outro kicks in: a minute long horn section that brings the record to a deliciously satisfying conclusion. Hopefully, though, it isn’t the final conclusion.
Words: Caitlin Chatteron