Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

Boygenius – Bite the Hand

A supergroup we mostly find pretty super…


Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: When Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, and Phoebe Bridgers announced that they were joining together as Boygenius earlier this year, I was both excited and skeptical. All three were coming off of excellent sophomore releases that worked in the same indie singer-songwriter milieu, but each of those albums was brilliant in large part because of its unique brand of loneliness: a god-fearing despondency on Baker’s Appointments, a strung-out LA wandering on Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps, a warm, embracing solitude on Dacus’ Historian. It felt strange, in concept at least, for these three vibes to coexist in one artistic body. Yet “Bite The Hand” proves my skepticism wrong almost immediately. As soon as Baker and Bridgers come in on the harmonies to support Dacus’ tale of romantic self-sabotage, it’s clear that Boygenius works as a group to bridge that loneliness, and in that synthesis, in the gorgeous descending vocal lines over the clamor of the guitars in the song’s outro, to find some musical solidarity.

John Seroff: The Dacus-led “Bite the Hand” is the first and by far the best track on the Boygenius album, all wistful Robert Smith guitar, steep slow build, and lo-fi girl-group harmonies sapped of color but not emotion. Both structurally and lyrically, it keeps its scope narrow and its pressure constant. The unresolved ending has kept me replaying, looking for a closure I know won’t come.

Katherine St Asaph: Unpopular opinion: I find Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers’ solo work bland individually, so the prospect of that times three is also not overly exciting. Why, with so few exceptions — the Dilettantes, Wild Flag, Pistol Annies when they’re on — do supergroups end up so MOR? Is it just that the most exciting artists make music that’s harsher, spikier, less submersible into others? (Imagine a supergroup of Kristin Hersh, Erika M. Anderson and Meg Myers.) Is it the folk roots, when the most exciting artists now are working outside sedate folk? (Imagine Karin Dreijer in any supergroup.) “Bite the Hand” is crunchier than I expected, with decent harmonies (though not amazing or frequent, and they highlight how glum the main melodic line is), but at center is still a platitude sung in saltine-beige voice.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: “Bite the Hand” features dreary guitar chord strumming meant to create a bleak void for one to safely reside in. It’s lethargic and insular and grey, perfectly summed up by the matter-of-fact delivery of “I can’t love you how you want me to.” It’s primarily a Dacus song, making it more personal, but Baker and Bridgers harmonize as if to provide comfort. It does a lot of things right, and it’s hard to fault it of much, but Dacus isn’t particularly engaging.

Ryo Miyauchi: Lucy Dacus can’t muster the strength by herself to share how she feels, and neither Phoebe Bridgers nor Julien Baker can get through a crushing refrain like “I can’t love you how you want me to” on their own either. But they claim the lyric together in “Bite the Hand,” with Bridgers and Baker singing behind Dacus just in case it becomes too much for her to bear her words alone. Keeping company may not exactly soothe, but it makes it a little easier.

Anthony Easton: Brilliant harmonies, infused with heartbreak, have a long tradition in pop. This is an excellent example, made even better when tempered with anger. 

Tim de Reuse: The three-part harmonies are the focal point here, each line sliding between the others with a kind of dead-behind-the-eyes unenthusiasm that gives an appropriate sense of resignation to the line “I can’t love you like you want me to.” The surrounding indie-rock instrumental is functional; it frames the voices and otherwise stays out of the way. Feels like a proof-of-concept for a band capable of more substantial things.

Taylor Alatorre: The biggest question I had coming into the Boygenius EP was how these three superficially similar indie rock auteurs would piece their musical visions into a singularly compelling whole. Would it all melt into a slurry of meet-in-the-middle sameness, or would centrifugal forces tear apart any hope for cohesion? Even the title of the project seems to hint at the ego clashes that have undone many creative partnerships; it jabs at the cult of the individual genius while testifying to its powerful allure. “Bite the Hand,” for the majority of its runtime, is thoroughly a Lucy Dacus song, with only sparse and cosmetic traces of collaboration. This is fine insofar as Dacus is a fantastic songwriter, but a full surrender to this approach would reduce this supposed supergroup to little more than cross-promotional branding. Thankfully, the harmonizing outro singlehandedly dispels such concerns. Bridgers and Baker chime in with impeccable timbre and timing, at once validating Dacus’ unsentimentalism and extending her words into places she alone can’t take them.

Alfred Soto: At first it deceives listeners into thinking it will depend on the strummed intimacy of recent Mitski until the members of this supergroup use their vocals as directional signs, and when they no longer strum their guitars I can see their teeth going for the fingers. 

Hannah Jocelyn: Similarly to Be The Cowboy, the group name of Boygenius comes from a place of asserting yourself and not being afraid to take up space. Yet “Bite The Hand” is about the side effects of existing as a Badass Woman In Indie Rock, with the expectations of both intense vulnerability and steely-eyed strength. One of the first lines is “I can’t see you, the light is in my face,” and the light is literal, but symbolic. Lucy Dacus (the lead writer on this song) once clarified this sentiment in an interview: I don’t go into crowds after shows anymore… but I hate how unfair that exchange is. Everyone in the crowd is probably a creator, and they all get to see my thing, and I don’t get to see any of theirs.” With that in mind, “I can’t touch you, I wouldn’t if I could” weighs even heavier. Even after she stopped going into crowds, they touched her anyway, creating an unwanted physical connection instead of the emotional one desired. Maybe I’m afraid of you. “Bite the hand that needs me” sounds like a throwaway rhyme, but it’s the most important line of the song: fans of vulnerable musicians have guns with no safety on, they have the box tattooed on their arm, they lie in the bathtub and put on your first record. Opening yourself up as a musician can be cathartic, and it can make others feel less alone, but doing that night after night in an increasingly unstable, exploitative industry takes its toll. As Dacus goes into a round with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, as the layers of distortion pile up, a deeper purpose of Boygenius as a group becomes clear. It’s not merely for listeners or concertgoers; it’s for the trio to commiserate too, for them to feel less alone. The three of them don’t have as much in common as some might assume, but they’re still all lumped into the same category. If the song concludes by closing off completely from the audience (“I can’t love you how you want me to…”), a more uplifting resolution is in the subtext: in that final crescendo and a cappella coda, “Bite The Hand” finds strength through companionship instead. 

Reader average: [5.75] (4 votes)

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3 Responses to “Boygenius – Bite the Hand”

  1. Why does that dog remind me of Protomartyr

  2. Def not the boygenius song I would’ve picked to be the representative

  3. lucy dacus >>>>>>>>>>