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boygenius, 'Emily I'm Sorry'

Emily is a name destined to come alive in song. Its sonorous syllables have fallen from the tongues of Frank Sinatra, Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett and Art Garfunkel, to name just a few; the name invokes dreaminess, whether the reverie is happy, paranoid or psychedelically dissociative. In this beautifully elliptical ballad, songwriter Phoebe Bridgers claims the name for sorrow as she and her musical siblings in boygenius spin out a story of the kind of love that gets you lost and keeps you that way.

"She's asleep in the front seat lookin' peaceful," the lyric begins over a propulsive guitar strum, but this trip soon turns perilous, with the song's namesake sharing a dream of "screeching tires and fire." Inhabiting the persona of a lover in way over her head, Bridgers plays out the car crash metaphor as she describes herself a "wide awake, spiraling," unable to remove herself from a wreck that still feels like the only relationship for her.

When the voices of Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker come in on the song's chorus, providing a countermelody that pings against Bridgers' breathy lead and only sometimes resolves into one harmony line, "Emily I'm Sorry" fully captures that feeling of being both carried forward and entrapped by love. As the verses wear on amid dreams of stability that feel both hopeful and regretful, a flanged guitar expands the sensation of an inner monologue wildly unspooling. "I'm 27 and I don't know who I am, but I know what I want," Bridgers sings, doubling down on desire even though she knows it will never lead to real satisfaction. In a way, this song captures the long day after the dreamy scenario of Simon and Garfunkel's "For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her," a dream in which a man conjures his ideal woman, too good to be true. This Emily is real, a problem as well as an irresistible pull, and waking up is the hardest part.

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Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.