EP Review: boygenius, ‘the rest’

    The songs on the rest, like the voices of boygenius, are often tangled up. Phoebe Bridgers uses that exact phrase on ‘Voyager’, relaying the intimate language of a chaotic relationship that echoes the one she longed to escape on boygenius’ 2018 self-titled EP. When she first played the song at a London show in July 2022, more than a year before its boygenius live debut, it was a solitary affair, floating somewhere in the Punisher universe and unadorned by the presence of her close friends Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus. Now, months after the release of boygenius’ debut full-length the record and near the end of their triumphant tour in support of the LP, the context of boygenius – an indie rock supergroup reaching and self-consciously navigating new levels of success – is both unignorable and empowering. The chemistry is more important still. Produced alongside regular collaborators including Tony Berg, Jake Finch, Ethan Gruska, Calvin Lauber, Collin Pastore, and Marshall Vore, the four-song companion to the record calls back to the trio’s debut EP, stripping down their sound and allowing each member a moment in the spotlight. They don’t sing about each other as much, but they look and lean towards each other in powerfully incremental ways – not using music as a means of decorating or documenting time so much as attesting to that they’ve spent together.

    The pared-back sound of the rest suggests a band grounding itself in the midst of unsteadiness, but the thread running through it is cosmic. There’s no better description for the harmonies in ‘Voyager’ than a line Baker sings in the closer, ‘powers’: “The hum of our contact/ The sound of our collision.” It’s a beautiful projection of togetherness that remains subtle throughout the EP, resting less on language, which gives space for the members’ individual perspectives and poetry to rise and play off each other. Part of what connects these songs is, in fact, an interest in twisting perspective, particularly when it comes to matters of life and death. The lyric that stands out the most in ‘Voyager’ – “There are nights you say you don’t remember/ When you stepped on the gas and you asked if I’m ready to die” – is so striking in its recklessness it nearly throws the song off balance, not romanticizing but questioning what was fuelling the connection. Bridgers almost seems to be drawing inspiration from Dacus, who paints a more detailed scene on the previous track, ‘Afraid of Heights’, in which a conversation with a partner deepens her own understanding of mortality: “I wanna live a vibrant life/ But I wanna die a boring death.”

    Do you have to risk your life to be able to live, to be fearful of death in order to hold hope for the future? Dacus’ isn’t alone in contemplating these questions. When Baker comes across a headline about a black hole that produces stars instead of sucking them up, it forces her to rethink the relationship between light and destruction. Rather than developing the thought by herself on ‘Black Hole’, she cracks the song open and lets it expand, both musically and through the introduction of Dacus and Bridgers’ voices: “Sometimes, I need to hear your voice” is the last thing you hear them say. But Baker cycles back to it on ‘powers’, her big moment: a kind of superhero origin story where the superhero (or “supergroup,” if you will) is less relevant than the story, which ends in mystery: “There’s no object to be seen in the supercollider/ Just a light in the tunnel and whatever gets scattered.”

    Maybe the light in the tunnel looks something like the pale blue dot Bridgers mentions in ‘Voyager’, likely referencing the Voyager 1 spacecraft’s 1990 photo of Earth. Individually, the boygenius members have all sung about wanting to go home. And as powerfully as their voices blended together on ‘Not Strong Enough’, the song ends just with Dacus, ringing with the pain of going home alone. But walking in the city by herself, feeling “like a man on the moon,” Bridgers isn’t fantasizing about alien abduction this time, but rather noticing the ease in her step, maybe also that of letting go. Not wishing hard, but looking, as Carl Sagan famously said, again at that dot: “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.” Who could dream up a better view?

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    The songs on the rest, like the voices of boygenius, are often tangled up. Phoebe Bridgers uses that exact phrase on 'Voyager', relaying the intimate language of a chaotic relationship that echoes the one she longed to escape on boygenius' 2018 self-titled EP. When she...EP Review: boygenius, 'the rest'