The strength of a trio of stellar songwriters

In the age of #MeToo, the indie-folk-rock supergroup boygenius are ironically named - not least because their members are all women.

Each is a respected singer-songwriter in her own right, but all three have been inevitably lumped together, incessantly compared with one another because of their femininity and youthfulness.

The title of the trio (and its eponymous EP) then works as both humblebrag validation and utter rebuke - it validates the immense talent that these artists possess while undercutting the gender stereotyping.

The six songs represent a generosity of spirit and an openness to adventure. You can call it the millennial response to case/lang/veirs, the acclaimed collaboration by more established sistas - Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs - two years ago.

Julien Baker, 23, from Memphis, Tennessee, brings to the project an emo spikiness; Phoebe Bridgers, 24, from Pasadena, California, a melancholy whiff of folksiness; and Lucy Dacus, 23, Mechanicsville, Virginia, her grungy bluesy, rock sass.

Underlining all their music sensibilities is candour and an easy access to the heart.

The first track, Bite The Hand, is led by Dacus, who goes for the jugular with her lyrical directness. "I can't hear you, the light is in my face/I can't touch you, I wouldn't if I could," she sings over tightly wound guitars.

  • INDIE-FOLK/ROCK

  • BOYGENIUS EP

    boygenius

    Matador

    Rating: 4/5

As drums come in, Bridgers and Baker echo Dacus' chorus: "I can't love you how you want me to."

It is the kind of easy-speak, brittle balladry Gen-Xers would normally associate with the works of Aimee Mann.

Like a narrative thread, the guitar riff continues to the next track, Bridgers' Me & My Dog. Her wonderful airiness limns the flush of love or infatuation, or the falling out of love: "I wanna be emaciated/I wanna hear one song without thinking of you." The guitars, meanwhile, are roughed up, louder, softer, then louder. A banjo appears like a bucolic apparition, if only for a few seconds.

The track segues into the quiet storm, Souvenir, where the singers trade verses. If not for the buttery strums, you would have missed the images which are nightmarish - cemeteries, hospitals, a midnight surgery.

The tension is ramped up in Stay Down, a harrowing account of a break-up. Baker keens over stuttering drums and electric riffs: "Push me down into the water like a sinner."

Salt In My Wound is the natural whiplash. The piano plonks, drums pounce and the women sing, and the effect makes your hair stand on ends: "I'm gnashing my teeth/Like a child of Cain."

The release comes in a beautiful ballad which captures the sense of rootlessness, of "spending one's 20s on the road", away from family and friends, as well as their simpatico connection.

"I am never anywhere/Anywhere I go/When I'm home I'm never there/Long enough to know," the trio harmonise (on one microphone), united in their common absence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2018, with the headline 'The strength of a trio of stellar songwriters'. Print Edition | Subscribe