boygenius'“The Rest” is a science fiction delight

The boys have always been clever, but this EP is out of this world 

By Amanda Gagen

Design by Jalia DillardOctober 23 2023

After five years of painful anticipation following the release of their self-titled EP in 2018, indie dream-team boygenius gave their fans “the record” earlier this year — the full-length album fans had been pining after for what felt like forever. But that is not where the group’s generosity ended — in late September they announced the release of the album’s companion EP — “the rest.” To make this drop even sweeter, the album is littered with conventions of science fiction, leading to a rather intelligent study of identity crises.

boygenius is a powergroup of three of indie music’s most prominent women — Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker. Each has her own solo projects, but the famous friendship within the trio is indicative of mutual commitment, respect and appreciation. This element of their group identity contributes to their cohesive sound, lyricism and stage presence. boygenius’ unique conglomeration of solo artists with on-going careers started them off with a small but loyal cult-following, one that has only expanded with the growth of each members’ solo career and their brilliant addition to Taylor Swift’s massive Eras Tour as openers.  

Coming nearly seven months after “the record,” “the rest'' arrived as a simultaneously separate and connected entity. Though both works fit into the softly melodramatic mood boygenius has established and earned much praise for, “the rest” is distinctly different from “the record.” A dialogue between the two entities, however, makes for a strong coupling. Both works emphasize the importance of platonic relationships in finding an understanding of oneself and the world. “the record” embraces a particularly urgent focus on the relationship between identity and friendship. 

“the rest” explores similar themes, but its compact form allows for Baker, Bridgers and Dacus to center their album in the realm of science fiction. Track titles like “Voyager” and “Black Hole” alone are enough to tie them to this genre, but elements of the scientific discipline are present in the metaphors sprinkled throughout each track. 

The group’s unique ability to blend in and out of different soloists and execute sophisticated harmonies is not lost in this EP, and even enhances their themes of sci-fi. Within the alternative and indie spheres, boygenius is not known for smashing drum solos or ear-shattering bass guitar. Their sound is characteristically stripped and mostly mellow, allowing for a constant focus on their compelling harmonies and lyrical genius. The majority of boygenius’ discography features deceptively classic instrumentals, which invites the imagery of a simple pastoral. Here, the prevalence of outer space brings both cosmic beauty and confusion into this EP.

“Blackhole” is the first song on the EP, and the name itself invites the idea of complicated confusion. It begins with quiet pulsing pain. The music swells gently during the first verse as Baker describes a lonesome quotidian scene, just a girl and her cigarette. There is a fascinating interlude of ascending piano notes and a deceptively quiet riff littered with an electronic twinkle. 

Dacus dominates the second half of “Blackhole.” She lists random words which become connected when she sings “My thoughts, all noise, fake smile, decoys / Sometimes, I need to hear your/voice.” The seemingly unrelated lists cleverly refer to the overstimulation of modern life — much like the overwhelming mass in a black hole. The song’s ending line — the desire to hear the voice of a loved one — suggests the path out of this turmoil. “Blackhole” is the shortest on the release with only two verses, but sets the tone for what follows.

Next on “the rest” is “Afraid of Heights” — a track where Dacus takes the reins. “Afraid of Heights” details how two conflicting personalities bring two views of the self and mortality to the foreground. One personality is that of a risk-taker who views life as entropic and pointless, while the other is the archetypal “goody two shoes,” shaded by their far yet looming mortality.  

Dacus’ retelling of her own conflicting perspective still indicates an adoration for the other despite their differences, a love through understanding. She sings, “When the black water ate you up / Like a sugar cube in a teacup” — she is fearful of her other’s lack of caution, but couples this fear with an endearing simile. 

In “Afraid of Heights,” Dacus gracefully tackles the opposing forces of rich adventure and mortality with her lyrics, “I wanna live a vibrant life / But I wanna die a boring death.” She acknowledges the tension existing between desiring the thrill of living unapologetically while also not being ready for the consequences of an unashamed life. The interactions between Dacus and the other she describes create a powerful message about individual choices shaping the character of the person. 

“Voyager” is a masterpiece. The track’s name refers to Voyager I, a space probe that took an iconic picture of Earth in 1990 where Earth appeared as a tiny blue dot. Nothing is overtly complicated about the instrumentals, with the guitar merely a repetition of a plucking pattern over dreamy humming from Baker and Dacus. On an underlying level, the song is charged with a powerful sense of love and adoration, seen with lines like, “And I don’t mean to make it all / about me / But I used to believe no one could / love you like I do” and “There are days spent tangled up / together / And sometimes you let me read your mind.” 

Perhaps the most powerful lines of “Voyager” come when Bridgers sings, “Walkin’ alone in the city / Makes me feel like a man on the moon / Every small step I took was so easy / But I never imagined a dot quite as pale or so blue / You took it from me, but I would’ve / given it to you.” Here, the use of the phrase “pale blue dot” adds a cosmic perspective. Earthly existence is a small thing. This haunting allusion brings the looming existential crises of the preceding songs into the foreground of Bridgers’ track — another demonstration of the incontestable synergy between these women.

Closing the album is “Powers,” perhaps the most heavily sci-fi song, with Julien Baker as the frontwoman. Baker’s guitar instrumentals give off a slight angst reminiscent of Elliott Smith as she grapples with her own identity. Baker is even unsure of her creation when she sings, “How did it start? Did I fall into a nuclear / reactor / Crawl out with acid skin or somethin’ worse / A hostile alien ambassador.” Here, she questions her biological existence with the language of othering. 

However, Baker does come to a sort of resolution in her concluding lines. After expressing her doubt, she finds meaning in “The force of our impact, the fission / The hum of our contact, the sound of our collisions.” The use of “our” is important here. Though there are few details in this revelation, Baker declares the importance of confronting internal and external conflict with a loved one by your side.

The invitation of outer space into the discussion of identity underscores that understanding the self is not simple — it is an exploration into the vast unknown. boygenius’ ability to simplify big ideas and magnetize the miniscule is unmatched in modern music. The beauty of “the rest” doesn’t doesn’t depend upon explicit declarations of sexual desire or romantic love. Instead, it lies in self-exploration and pure connections with others. “the rest” explores the importance of genuine love and understanding to reach self-fulfillment.

Following the EP, boygenius is slated to play Hollywood Bowl’s sold out Oct. 31 Halloween show with 100 Gecs and Sloppy Jane. This is the final show in the group’s “the tour” that began this July. While the group’s future plans remain up in the air, fans can lose themselves in “the rest”’s out of this world melodies in the meantime.