The three women of Boygenius — Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker — have made alluding to their forebears a hallmark of their band. Witness the cover of their first EP in 2018, when they re-created the casual iconography of the debut album sleeve of a prior supergroup — Crosby, Stills & Nash — or when they posed as Nirvana on a recent Rolling Stone cover. On their first full-length album, prosaically titled “The Record,” the references come fast and furious, in song titles or random lines: the Beatles with “Revolution 0,” Sheryl Crow with “Not Strong Enough,” Virginia Woolf with “Letters to an Old Poet,” Joan Didion and the Cure with scattered borrowings or citations, and last but not least, Leonard Cohen with, um, “Leonard Cohen.”

These fleeting shout-outs come from bona fide super fans, with a sense of humor about culture and about themselves. But the funny thing is, when they’re not playing spot-the-reference, Bridgers, Dacus and Baker are making music so good that it doesn’t seem untoward to elevate them to the same big leagues as their heroes. Individually that’s already the case, with all three among the forefront of 20-something singer-songwriters. But it wasn’t always clear, until “The Record,” how there might be even a fourth sensibility they could bring to bear as a collective. It’d be an insult to these artists’ solo records to say that the whole of Boygenius is greater than the sum of its parts, but the new album feels like you could play it a hundred times and still enjoy decoding how their voices and personas diverge and recombine in ways that are distinctly separate and alchemistic at the same time. Even the presence here of a cheeky song called “Satanist” won’t stop you from considering the holiness of a solid super-trinity.

A handful of the tracks were written solo (or with just a word or phrase suggested by another member, if you look at the coded-out lyrics). Even a few more than those showcase a dominant singer-songwriter before the harmonies kick in. So it’s not as if they’re playing a game of round robin on every tune — although more equally shared songs make for democratic fun when they happen. Each member’s instinctive, distinctive role is reasonably clear: If you hear a song with a strong electric guitar riff that makes you think of the Breeders, as “$20” does — or, believe it or not, Nirvana, as “Satanist” does — that’s Baker at her musically cockiest (although that’s not her only trick). Conversely, if you hear a voice so pure its owner sounds like she should be playing the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, and writing with a warm heart on her sleeve to match, this would be Dacus. Someone who delivers most of her material in a near-whisper but will go screamo for the purposes of a dramatic climax? Bridgers, of course. 

But what gives “The Record” an element of fiber that few other star team-ups have boasted is how un-self-consciously the trio write about the power of friendship, on top of respective romantic endeavors, or just have it there as harmonic subject. When they harmonize singing “I never thought you’d happen to me” on “Leonard Cohen,” the subject is Boygenius, itself, as pals swapping songs on a road trip. This camaraderie comes in contrast to the more fraught affairs of the heart described in numbers like Bridgers’ jaw-droppingly blunt “Letters to an Old Poet.” (Candor doesn’t get much more candid than: “When you fell down the stairs, it looked like it hurt and I wasn’t sorry / I should have left you right there with your hostages: my heart and my car keys.”)

In bulk, “The Record” isn’t that much more upbeat than their supposedly sadcore solo efforts, and includes fairly heart-shattering lyrics from each of the members — so why is the final effect to make you feel so damn happy? Partly it’s the inclusion of a few mood-lifters about finding true connection, like the Dacus-led ode to a BFF, “True Blue.” But mostly it has to do with establishing a interlocking spirit beneath the sometimes lonesome top layer. It’s in the album’s most communal (and probably commercial) tune, “Not Strong Enough” — which, on paper, could reads like a bummer — that you really get the sense of how delighted these three talents are to be bouncing off one another. Listening to that none-too-somber piece of old-school jangle-pop, with its traded-off verses constructing a sisterhood right before your ears, it’s like summer arrived three months early. And like one of the best albums of 2023 arrived right on time.

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