It’s an all-female week, from both sides of the Cold War. Russia’s Kate NV on one side of the Bering Strait, and the three women of boygenius on the other.
American singer-songwriters Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker already pooled their talents on a 2018 EP. Five years later they’re back together for a fully-fledged album. It’s a little difficult to see past the hype – they’ve been compared to Crosby, Stills & Nash, a comparison they invited with their debut EP cover.
The trio sing beautifully together, and they have three different personalities – Dacus is a rocker, Baker is raw and emotive, while Bridgers is poised and pristine. Their full-length debut isn’t perfect but it’s full of charisma and there is a core of great songs.
The a capella opening track recalls a more traditional vocal group, like The Roches. There are neat classic rock references – ‘Cool About It’ sounds like it was derived from Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’, while ‘Leonard Cohen’ references the artist’s famous line, “”There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
The amount of group participation varies – ‘True Blue’ is excellent, but it’s differentiated from a Dacus solo record by the presence of Bridgers’ and Baker’s harmonies. The most successful songs often feel more collaborative – ‘Not Strong Enough’, with its coda of ‘Always an angel, never a god.” Baker benefits from the collaboration, hitting a more muscular and immediate sound.
boygenius is often excellent, three talented musicians pooling their resources for more attention and stronger harmonies.
Moscow’s Ekaterina Shilonosova, aka Kate NV, already had Wow recorded before the Covid pandemic. It’s been a tumultuous time for everyone around the world, but doubly so in Russia – Shilonosova told MusicRadar that “Everything is so unpredictable that I cannot plan ahead because I am not grounded and almost all of my friends left my country.” This record focuses on electronic sounds and loops of organic samples – she told HHV Mag that she was influenced by the soundtracks to the Sega games she played growing up.
The more electronic and sample-based sound of Wow is less successful than her previous studio record, Room for the Moon. When it works it’s joyful and fun. When it doesn’t work it can be a little grating. The best tracks are very strong – the opening pair of ‘Oni (They)’ and ‘Confessions at the Dinner Table’ are among the most memorable tracks. The latter was created with London-based producer Quinn Oulton. The closing ‘Meow Chat’ was my favourite track with a music video.
Wow isn’t my favourite Kate NV project – the art-pop of Room for the Moon is markedly stronger in my book. But it’s the mark of a strong artist that she can create fascinating music in an entirely different idiom.