Rank the Albums - Boygenius
Rank the Albums is a series where I listen through a particular artist's catalogue, listening to every album, and expressing my thoughts.
Boygenius need no introduction. The supergroup formed of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus have ten wonderful records between them, leading to a well-deserved following that includes big names such as Taylor Swift and Kendall Jenner. Beginning with 2015's Sprained Ankle and concluding with 2021's Home Video, all three artists have put out wonderful records, including solo releases, a collaboration with Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, and their self-titled boygenius record.
In this article, I'm going to take a retrospective look back at each of these albums, and ranking them in order of personal preference. I'll be picking out highlight tracks, favourite lyrics, and discussing what makes each of these albums so special.
Without any further ado, here we go!
10. Stranger in the Alps - Phoebe Bridgers (2017)
Stranger isn't a terrible album by any means, and it taking the bottom spot is more a reflection on how strong every other album by the boygenius trio is than any criticism against Bridgers and her artistry. There's plenty to love here, and listening through the album, it's easy to see why it resonated with so many people. Motion Sickness might be her best song yet, and remains just as powerful four years on from release. Smoke Signals is a suitably atmospheric opener, pairing well with its reprise to bookend the album, and Demi Moore is simply beautiful, a relatable snapshot of long-distance loneliness and pining. Even the least developed tracks (the uncomfortable Killer and the undercooked Georgia in particular) contain seeds of great songwriting that she would go on to develop later in her career. The nadir comes with the regrettable cover of You Missed My Heart. However, the bright spots on the album provide a concise summary of why Bridgers was catapulted to fame.
Best tracks: Motion Sickness, Smoke Signals
Best line: There are no words in the English language I could scream to drown you out.
9. Punisher - Phoebe Bridgers (2020)
I'm sure ranking both of Bridgers' solo efforts at the bottom of my list will prove to be an unpopular move, but just know that this isn't a slight on Bridgers' talents, and is instead testament to how fantastic the following records on this list are. Punisher is a more consistent effort than its predecessor. The production is a treat, with every song contributing to the ominous atmosphere (with the exception of the bleak Kyoto, my least favourite song of her career). The build in tension in the last three songs is brilliant, with the beautiful Graceland Too serving as the perfect setup to the thrilling finale of I Know The End - when the screams and distorted guitars enter, it's a chilling conclusion. The introduction to the album is brilliant, too - the foreshadowing melodies of DVD Menu segueing into excellent lead single Garden Song is a beautiful opening to the record. The lyricism is overall sharper than her debut - Kyoto notwithstanding, the quality of songwriting is ramped up from Stranger, and the themes of isolation and hurt are potent, especially in the album's opening and closing runs.
Best tracks: Graceland Too, Garden Song
Best line: We spent what was left of our serotonin to chew on our cheeks and stare at the moon.
8. No Burden - Lucy Dacus (2016)
No Burden remains a thrilling listen, in part for how starkly different it sounds in contrast to Dacus' more recent work. It's far more blues and grunge influenced than her other albums - can you imagine a song like Strange Torpedo finding itself on Home Video? There's hints that's what to come here - Map on a Wall is a trademark epic that Dacus would go on to develop in songs like Pillar of Truth, full of emotionally devastating lines and stunning atmospherics, and Trust is full of incising lines. The only song that remains a staple of her live shows is the album highlight I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore, one of the catchiest songs of her career that showcases both her phenomenal guitar playing and her beautiful lyrics. Most artists can only dream of writing a song this good. Dacus makes it look easy.
Best tracks: I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore, Troublemaker Doppelgänger
Best line: If beauty is the only way to make these nightmares go away, I'll plant a garden in your brain and let the roots absorb the pain.
7. Boygenius - Boygenius (2018)
The only record released as boygenius is a great one, with all three songwriters playing to their strengths and hinting at new ones. It marks a turning point in each songwriter's career, prefacing each of their greatest solo efforts. It's a folk album at its heart (the closing Ketchum, ID feels like a lost Joni Mitchell track), but it's also so much more than that, with distorted guitar pyrotechnics abound, especially on centrepiece Salt in the Wound. All three musicians shine especially bright: Bridgers' solo turn on Me & My Dog is one of her greatest songs, an achingly beautiful reflection on separation, and Dacus shines on the intense opener Bite the Hand. But it's the showstopping Stay Down that takes the crown, a song that took my breath away on first listen, Baker's incredible vocals at the forefront. The record is a great showcase of three talented songwriters that holds up strong in a stacked catalogue of releases.
Best tracks: Stay Down, Bite the Hand, Salt in the Wound
Best line: I can't love you how you want me to.
6. Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center (2019)
Better Oblivion is a collaborative project between Phoebe Bridgers and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst, and it becomes greater than the sum of its parts to form a band that builds on each members' individual strengths to create something more. Phoebe's influence is clear as daylight, from the wistful folk of Chesapeake to the furious squall of Big Black Heart, a song that stands out as the clear predecessor to Punisher's I Know The End. Oberst proves an effective foil, their voices working together both in harmony and unison on tracks like the elegiac Forest Lawn and the aforementioned Big Black Heart. It's an interesting album that draws on touchstones of both artists back catalogues (Dylan Thomas being a prime example, featuring I'm Wide Awake-era Bright Eyes guitars and lyrical references to Stranger in the Alps), but also looks ahead to the future (the electronics of Exception To The Rule offering a taste of some of the weirder moments of Down In The Weeds..., the harmonies of Chesapeake reminiscent of the gentler moments of Punisher). All in all, the record stands strong as a highlight of both artists catalogues.
Best tracks: Sleepwalkin', Forest Lawn, Big Black Heart
Best line: Risk it all on the game of chance, chasing love like an ambulance.
5. Turn out the Lights - Julien Baker (2017)
Turn out the Lights begins with a stirring instrumental leading into Appointments, which remains one of my favourite songs to date by any artist. It's a song that forces you to pay attention and engage, stunning you for six solid minutes. Many artists have written about anxiety, but I'm not confident I'll hear a more relatable exploration of it than Appointments. The album delves deeper on this, with the main theme being religion interacting with sexuality and mental health. Tracks like Everything to Help You Sleep are gutting in their specificity, and Happy To Be Here is especially effective in its "what if?" questioning. When Baker sings "I know there is no way I can hide from your humiliating grace", regardless of your religious views, something stirs. It's a step up instrumentally from her debut too: tracks like Shadowboxing demonstrate her virtuosic guitar playing, and songs like Appointments and Sour Breath feel huge. It's a devastatingly sad record, but one that ends on a note of hope in Claws In Your Back, a direct sequel to Go Home from her debut album. Even the darkest tunnels have a bright light at the end. Turn out the Lights is as dark as it gets, but it's worth the journey for the brilliant light. The fact that it's the weakest solo effort from Baker is testament to her incredible talent as a songwriter.
Best tracks: Appointments, Sour Breath, Happy to Be Here
Best line: Maybe it's all gonna turn out alright / I know that it's not, but I have to believe that it is.
4. Historian - Lucy Dacus (2018)
The Shell might be the song that first made me a big fan of Lucy Dacus. It's the best song I've ever heard about writing songs; a thrillingly detailed mediation on artistry that also shreds like hell. It's the third track on Historian, a stunning record primarily about love and death. The wonderful opener, Night Shift, is sometimes seen as Dacus' signature song, and for good reason - it's a masterpiece of songwriting, where not a single second is wasted, the furious finale leaving you breathless. All ten songs on the record are wonderful, but the emotional climax comes in the final third, building up to penultimate track Pillar of Truth, a powerful examination of grief. It's a pulverisingly heavy track that gives way to the plaintive prayer of the title track to close out the album perfectly. The record builds on the strength of her debut while hinting at even higher heights that she would ascend to in the future.
Best tracks: Pillar of Truth, Night Shift, The Shell
Best line: If the body and the life were two things that we could divide, I'd deliver up my shell to be filled with somebody else.
3. Sprained Ankle - Julien Baker (2015)
Of all the releases in this list, Sprained Ankle was the first I heard, and will always hold a special place in my heart for that reason. I remember really vividly hearing it for the first time around Christmas 2016 and being blown away by how amazing every single song is. The outro to Go Home in particular brought me to tears - the piano rendition of In Christ Alone, the distant shortwave preaching - something about it just hit home. Hearing it live many years later remains one of my all time favourite concert experiences. It's one of Baker's greatest songs to date, and the whole record maintains that same high standard. The guitar parts in the title track and Vessels make a strong case for Baker as being one of the best guitarists around, and her lyricism is as phenomenal as ever. While she would go on to achieve greater heights, Sprained Ankle remains a brilliant summation of everything that makes her one of the greatest songwriters of our generation. If you've not heard the record before, listen to Everybody Does and witness one of the greatest songwriters about beginning to operate at the peak of her powers.
Best tracks: Everybody Does, Sprained Ankle, Go Home, Good News
Best line: You're gonna run - it's alright, everybody does.
2. Little Oblivions - Julien Baker (2021)
Little Oblivions is a record that staggered me on first listen, and it's only got better with time. Baker's first full-band foray is a powerful one, with songs like Bloodshot and Highlight Reel sounding colossal, the arrangements lifting them to greater heights. Baker is a phenomenal producer, adding both grit and beauty to every track (or, in her own words, "the gore of our hearts"). The two more pared-back tracks on the album (Crying Wolf and Song in E) are starkly gorgeous. The latter has proved as a live favourite, and it's easy to see why, its haunting refrain of "it's the mercy I can't take" being completely unforgettable. Talking to Baker about the album gave me a new-found appreciation for it, and I believe it to be her greatest record yet. Her voice is stronger than ever (Ringside still stuns me every time I hear it), the songwriting is phenomenal, and the production is beautiful. I can't recommend this album enough.
Best tracks: Highlight Reel, Faith Healer, Ringside, Song in E
Best line: When it dies, you can tell me how much was a lie / I guess that's for me to decide.
1. Home Video - Lucy Dacus (2021)
Home Video is more than just Lucy Dacus' strongest album, and more than just the strongest album of the year so far. It's immediately resonated with me in a way no other album has for a long time. That being said, you don't have to be able to relate to Dacus' stories to really feel every single part of this incredible record. There's not a single weak spot here - every song adds up to a whole product that's greater than the sum of it's incredible parts. Brando was the first song that really grabbed me on first listen, with its infectious melody and devastating lyrics - two things that Dacus does better than most songwriters. On further lessons, more and more favourites became apparent - the achingly relatable VBS, the perfect opener Hot & Heavy, or the heartwrenchingly gorgeous Christine. But the crown jewel of the record is the closing Triple Dog Dare, a contender for my favourite song of the year. I challenge anyone to listen to it and not feel something. Everyone should hear this album. Home Video is a goddamn masterpiece. What else can be said? Listen to this album.
Best tracks: Triple Dog Dare, Hot & Heavy, Brando, VBS
Best line: You called me cerebral, I didn't know what it meant / But now I do, would it have killed you to call me pretty instead?
Listen to QSO's favourite boygenius songs in the playlist below:
Listen to QSO and Julien Baker talk through Little Oblivions for the Student Music Network below:
AC is the Head of Written Content at QSO Media. Follow them on Twitter.