Review: boygenius’ EP “the rest” Stands On Its Own
Following boygenius’ successful album “the record,” new EP “the rest” builds upon the past work to create a uniquely powerful collection.
On Oct. 13, indie-rock supergroup boygenius marked the near-end of their tour, aptly-titled “the tour,” with the release of a four-track EP, “the rest.” The band, which consists of the individually acclaimed Julian Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers, released their first full-length album, “the record,” this past March, which is why many fans were surprised by the announcement of “the rest” six months after. Though the EP’s name may seem to imply a collection of leftovers, Bridgers, in a recent interview with Apple Music, claimed that she believes “these songs don’t belong on ‘the record,’” and I agree.
“the rest” tells its own cohesive story, its four songs complementing each other through common motifs and musical devices. The project builds upon the three artists’ previous works, but adopts a specific focus on contrasting the scale of the expansiveness of extraterrestrial imagery with the banalities of daily life.
The opening track on “the rest,” “Black Hole,” introduces the EP’s central astronomical motif and themes of shifting scale and perspective. The song begins with a repeated otherworldly piano note that continues through Baker’s lyrics about smoking a cigarette on her front porch, a mundane image that rapidly increases in scale when she looks up at the stars and contemplates their creation by “what we thought was just destroying everything for good,” referencing a recently-discovered black hole that triggers star formation in its wake. This expansion presents the juxtaposition between the vastness of the universe and the limitations of human mortality and knowledge, a recurring theme throughout the EP.
As the instrumentation builds from the single note to a full band, the second half of the song’s lyrics commences with a shift in narrative, as Dacus and Bridgers enter to sing the track’s version of a chorus, which details a relationship with a person with black hole-adjacent qualities. The lyrical and melodic repetition within the lines, “Bad boy, big fight; You’re a good guy. Good day, good night. Good talk, goodbye,” reflects how in the repetition of daily life, anything familiar can become mundane, even a metaphorical black hole. The contradictions within these lyrics in conjunction with the line, “My thoughts, all noise,” also highlight the unreliability of human emotion, which can be contrasted against the mathematical predictability of astronomical phenomena.
“Black Hole” is the only track on the EP that is not primarily attributed to one member of the band; the remaining three songs each emphasize an individual’s experience and style. However, the collaborative foundation of the group still prevails through the songs’ lyrical and melodic cohesion and a notable amount of allusions to prior projects. The title of this song recalls the first line of “the record’s” fourth single, “Not Strong Enough,” “Black hole opened in the kitchen,” a lyric that captures the central juxtaposition of the EP.
The second track, “Afraid of Heights,” primarily written and sung by Dacus, is a ballad about her relationship with a destructive person. Dacus expresses her fear of this destructive nature, singing, “I wanna live a vibrant life, but I wanna die a boring death.” The motif of the black hole appears implicitly in the description of this person, most notably in the lines, “When the black water ate you up, Like a sugar cube in a teacup.” The mundane image of a sugar cube in a teacup emphasizes the vast unknown of the “black water” or the black hole, once again playing with the scale of a person’s significance and questioning the true nature of destructive forces. As the person reemerges from the black water unscathed, Dacus learns something about herself, admitting, “I got the point you were making, When I held my breath ‘til you came up.”
The different narrative perspectives of the EP are apparent in the line, “I’ve never smoked a cigarette,” which counters Baker’s lyric in “Black Hole,” “sucking a dart down on the back porch.” Through the presence of each artists’ distinct experience, the members of the band retain their individuality even in collaboration.
“Voyager,” performed and written by Bridgers, utilizes both earthly and extraterrestrial imagery to evoke feeling untethered in the wake of leaving a relationship. The first half of the song, which takes place in the midst of this relationship illustrates the mundane details of daily life with this person, like the “blacktop [...] melting on our shoes” and “the “days spent tangled up together.” The scale of our vision shifts as Bridgers leaves this person and suddenly “feels like a man on the moon” as she walks through the city streets, isolated and disoriented in even the most familiar places. “I never imagined a dot quite as pale or as blue,” Bridgers sings from her new, lonely vantagepoint, where her entire world, once so vibrant and rich, is now reduced to an insignificant “dot” on the horizon.
This song is also replete with allusions to prior boygenius and solo-Bridgers works. Most-glaringly, “Voyager” acts as a sequel to her album “Punisher’s” “Moon Song.” Its lunar references and the line: “You took it [Earth] from me, but I would’ve given it to you,” serve as a retrospective mirror to the “Moon Song” lyric: “If I could give you the moon, I would give you the moon.” Additionally, the line, “You stepped on the gas and asked me if I’m ready to die,” echoes Dacus’ sentiment in the EP’s previous song about her desire to “die a boring death,” furthering the project’s thematic coherence despite its narrative shifts.
“Powers,” the closing track on “the rest,” is an acoustic ballad in which Baker employs outer-space references as an attempt to come to terms with her otherness. She describes moving through her existence “on a crooked little trajectory” like “a body in orbit or a roach on his way to the gutter.” Once again, space imagery juxtaposes the reality of an individual’s smallness and lack of control. Destructive ambiguity and the motif of the black hole are reintroduced in the final stanza in the lyric, “the destruction of matter, there’s no object to be seen in the supercollider.” Though this seems grim, the following line, “life flashing before the eyes of whatever comes after,” affirms the hopeful possibility of creation in destruction, like the stars born from a black hole. Musically, “Powers” begins with an acoustic guitar strum that parallels the pulsing keyboard note in the intro of “Black Hole,” and with a melody highly reminiscent of “the record’s” “Anti-Curse.” These melodic and lyric allusions project a cyclical overtone onto not just the EP, but to the band’s entire body of work.
Through boygenius’ many references to their own music, they remind listeners that a song isn’t meant to stand alone; every song written by Bridgers, Dacus or Baker is a continuation and culmination of all the songs they have written before. Each of these three artists have created their own musical legend, something that weaves through every song and makes it distinctly their own. In collaborating, their styles and stories have intertwined to create something that is unique to the band but still carries forth each artists’ individual mythology. In an interview with Apple Music, Baker describes boygenius as “a collective of independence;” the band is able to experience the benefits of working together without sacrificing their individual identities. They are all talented and successful on their own accord, but chose to experiment with the friendship and growth that comes with collaboration. I think that’s what makes them so compelling.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★