I tend to give an album a week before I consider writing about it, but this fuzz ought to be addressed eventually. There always comes a time where somebody has to see what the fuss is all about. In 2018, a bee’s knees of an indie batch was formed when Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus decided to get a little band going. Boygenius, it was titled. Within 2023, all three of them have proven themselves in the eyes of the music community, Baker and Dacus each having unveiled three successful studio albums, and Bridgers having coined Punisher, one of the most widely gawked singer/songwriter efforts of the decade so far. After two EPs (one of which more or less provided a sampler for the actual album), The Record (2023, Interscope) was released.
A lot and a little seem to describe this album within equal ability, mixing the wonders of authenticity and the sins of borderline manufactured terrain in a taijitu that doesn’t deserve credit or acknowledgement. All the vocals vary on being decent to middling, with virtually no deviations in terms of quality. The backing musicians seem to do their job adequately, the various romances and losses portrayed on this album are executed sonically to varying degrees of success. The culmination of it all, combined with any decision to take subtextual explorations, result in boorish middling snail-paced simmers that take a heavier indirect psychological toll than the devices within the album that wanted to be responsible for such a toll to begin with. They’re not plants, they’ve merely proven to be a terribly uninteresting combination. The flavour is plastic, even if the sentiment is far from the case. This album would seem impossible to review thanks to how for-each-other it sounds, but let's see how that sounds to somebody outside that circle.
All the vocal group antics remain intact as Without You Without Them grants the privilege of a rather easy opening, sounding like a fusion of the lullaby and the falsely nostalgic pseudo-dreams of a ballroom spectre. Unfortunately, that tends to be all there is to it without submerging into lyrical pretences. Good thing this ain’t summer reading. $20, what do we have here? Now, there’s some massive indie-rock blockades of cliche leaving thoughts at the door with stuffed stammers. That stereotypically uninteresting fuzz trying to put a degree of edge to the sound, the predictably unpredictable sound, a bridge of floating and feathery vocals teaming up like deaf angels. Oh, and there’s a yell at the end too which brings the instrumentation to a point of suspense. Hey, it even ended where it really, really, really shouldn’t, and not in a way that feels bold or artsy. Perhaps it’s a cliffhanger to lead us into Emily I’m Sorry, perhaps we won’t be smelling just a brand new plastic wrapping around a candle with not even the slightest scent.
That sweet, sweet guitar at the start borders on confirmation, as well as that vocal production that feels particularly convex. It borders on awkward, maybe there’s some oddly louder moments in places where the voice volume is about the same, but it tends to do its job just fine. Each instrument seems to focus on a ground much more lost, more esoteric and suspended in reservations in order to feel as lost in night and in thought as the song needs them to be. The breaks devised to split them away before shattering them all back into position tend to compromise that guise, but the more reflective and dramatic presences seem relatively undeterred from such occasional commotion. The song also feels much shorter than it is, almost a minute shorter in perception than in actuality. A little bit more could be squeezed out of that piece. True Blue is even more plastic in its application of expletives, despite the improved harmonic work that’s present in the chorus, the setpieces feeling more full, and the completed product feeling infinitely more adequate. Not adequate in the way it portrays promising quality, simply an adequate that feels as if these newly visited environments have melted into our memories before, we’ve seen this place earlier than we can recall right now. What’s being stressed isn’t nostalgia, but it most definitely is a labour of memory. The enriched presences at hand may provide slight advantages and then some, but there isn’t a terrible amount it can offer outside of surface pleasantries.
Cool About It is its own gathering, an auditory offering that seems to submerge itself in a night similar to what we’ve heard in the local nooks of Emily I’m Sorry, but… shit. Have you ever ran out things to say simply because there really isn’t much to say to begin with? Here, we witness textural convention and convenience, as striking and as shocking as the bang of a gunshot as perceived by someone utterly deaf. This kind of plastic probably killed a penguin. A fictional one, I’m not here to cause guilt. But I know that what isn’t fictional is how unceremoniously manufactured so much of this song feels. It’s not bullshit, but it’s closer to soot than it is to fire. One could say it’s Not Strong Enough. Damn.
The chorus present in that song, since we’re on that topic, is significantly better than the rest up to this point. Despite how much more upbeat in comparison it is, it proves equally as insubstantial as a lion’s share of this album. Pay attention to those musical nothingnesses, those well-fed limbos and empty spaces. Zero times infinity still makes zero. It’s all such a pleasant sound that just teases you to latch onto something that’s deeper than yourself, deeper than you can possibly comprehend. But there eventually is a loss to be exacted and exalted here. It’s sound, but it ain’t sound. Depressive sensibilities, introspective sentiments and clay figures moulded only from eye-originating mind lasers cough out only a fraction of its promise. Brought some of the most promising musicians of that circle into the equation too. And if I’m the only one that confesses the auditory inconsequence provided by this album, then… basic, that’s another word I can use. Leonard Cohen is equally as harmless, if not more so. It’s becoming impressive, really. I suspect this song sounds similar to how glass tastes: it’s a bland flavour, a questionable texture, breaking it down is a painful process, and you’re left in the washroom for fifty minutes questioning how your entire life got up to this point. Some people have been getting all uppity about some of the more referential and self-indulgent unoriginal ersatz present within the lyrics. I hate it when they’re right. That’s a silly sentiment, but one I will continue to adhere to. My little axiom. How did this song become evidence of songwriting talent? It’s smug, ham-fisted bullshittery trying to sound cool as all fuck. I know those fellas have much better to provide.
But Satanist should be fun. It’s got that slight tinge of swagger within the guitar work, despite the vocals which come as more inoffensive than anything. Perhaps the song could have done with a little more loud to it, more spikes on its plating. The drum work is generally appropriate, but tends to clash with the vocals in a chemistry as pleasant as mayonnaise and popcorn. The structuring also happens to be quite basic, but that second chorus shows a lot to offer. Those wails emanating in the distance, the almost siren-ridden ambience, and- motherfucker, it already went. What it promises is especially enthusing, but fuck the promises, let’s just see what it shows and what it shows is nothing but fragments, fractions, mere little shards of what it could be. Let that song shine, express itself fully, not be shrouded by painfully painless vocal stylings and structuring. We’re In Love has a contrasting tenderness to let it be differentiated from ol’ Satanist, and thankfully improved on virtually every front. That soft-spoken string use within a generally low volume as vocals take the vanguard of this particular project (though just as thankfully not too loud), the guitar being a device to flesh out rather than confront every other variable. A more ideal ending could have been in place, but there is confirmation that so much more happened within that song thanks to how miniscule yet effective the arsenal is.
Anti-Curse does return to the occasional conventional facade that permeates a saddening amount of the rest of the album, but there still remains just that little bit more to latch onto. You could even stand up, go for a walk, at least a good stretch. Maybe some water, whatever flavour of whatever snack can keep that radio static mind of yours properly tuned and ready. You’d be oh so joyous when you sit on back down to find that the song is already over. What happened in that song? Ah, who cares. How did it sound, how did it go? Was it all as properly tuned up and stretched into shape like you were a few minutes ago? Well, better have some deep breaths, because we know that isn’t the case. How soft it is. A pillow with lumps, a wall with scratches visible on the paint in all the worst places. An egg too runny for your preference, a slab of halibut a bit burnt. Not necessarily desecrated, it just simply is. It is, much like a chair is, much like the word “is” is, much like the sentence ““much like the word is” is” is, it just exists. That’s quite criminal, for a song to simply exist. To be visible more as the process of tuning to a different channel than being focused on, to be dwelled on. To just be so feloniously uninteresting that it deprives us of the greatest experience music can provide: provoking emotion. Simply nothing.
Letter To An Old Poet may as well have sounded as if it’s from a different album, that’s how much better it is in comparison. Might be the second-best song on this entire project, it’s that final peek accompanied by stark and suppressed urgent strings kept hushed and mellow by setting sun before the hand over its mouth is then moved out of the way, the record having already ended before it can breathe. Who knew the Sun could look so beautiful? Texturally, too. You never figured the surface of the Sun had so much fluff on it. Like an exquisite pancake spoonfed to you right as that said Sun is busy rising back up come morning rise.
As I sit here, I realise my day may have been a little worse by merely reflecting on the album. So I’ll simply proceed with my protocol as such: put the thinking into words and justify leaving it as an improvised mazurka. A lot of music magazines seem to have been sucking up to this album like it’s the dream supergroup album the world never knew it was waiting for. Look: unless Meredith Monk, Joanna Newsom, and Diamanda Galas have themselves a wail-off and harp-driven, industrially fine-tuned minimalist craze that turns virtually everyone off for the next thirty years, in which even the most sanctimonious of critics will look at with derision (or unless Gong, Kelela, and Stereolab team up to create a genre-negating Canterbury-dreaming philosophical soul opera with forty-minute jams and acapella duels complete with bacchanal-bruised electronica), there will never be a dream supergroup album from the present day. At least, that'll remain the case if such dream albums are somehow as uncompelling as this.
Even worse is if the supergroup that is said to have created that album turns out to be a realistic combination. These magazines are loving Boygenius. Even more so if it means they’ll be hip again for the first time since ol’ Bangs reviewed Canned Heat. You figure they’d be honest with themselves for once instead of giving everything that pays well a good score and somehow saying they’re an authority on music in the same breath. Luckily, I’ve got time and a keyboard. Like a professional complainer. Don’t worry, I like to like stuff. It’s just that much like how this album tends to be viewed as an epoch-defining masterwork of rock music by the standards of some (if not, most) reviewers, I too have my own standards and undeniable preferences that simply are to be embraced or dismantled. My argument for this discussion is: The Record is, more often than not, basic as bottled water. I’m just at least glad they had fun making it.
… Generic! That's another word.
Trajectory of listens past the first: neutral.
Written 4/3/2023, 4:45 - 6:26 PM.