Lucy Dacus made an impressive entrance on the independent music scene with 2016’s No Burden, a debut that immediately placed her in the company of modern singer-songwriters like Sharon Van Etten, Jenny Lewis, and Courtney Barnett. Approachable, yet surprisingly sarcastic upon close listens, Dacus here continues to pair conversational, slice-of-life lyrics with melodic arrangements that effortlessly waft between rock ballads and terse guitar flare-ups. Some may hear the relaxed pop of the Go-Betweens in her work. Others may zero in one the blunt intimacy of early Liz Phair.
More existential than No Burden, Historian focuses equally on toxic relationships and self-care. However contemplative, Dacus’ quick turns of phrase create calls to action, making the album fit for those moments when life becomes exhaustive and you cannot squeeze in a nap.
Rom-coms aren’t as in fashion today as they were in the 90s. No matter. Dacus’ music would work well on a Bill Clinton-era mix tape, her songs sandwiched somewhere between those of the Lemonheads and Hole—or sound perfectly at home in dourly upbeat films such as Swingers and Chasing Amy.
Historian begins rather directly. “The first time I tasted somebody’s else’s spit, I had a coughing fit,” Lucy Dacus sings over a muted electric guitar. Things get louder soon, but the tone is established: Dacus’ caustic words and pleasantly soft voice will serve as the focus.
That same number, “Night Shift,” chronicles the array of cringe-inducing moments and emotions that arrive post break-up: The struggle to move on with someone else, the what-went-wrong coffeeshop conversations with the ex, the underlying alone-forever fear. Clocking in at more than seven minutes, the song churns through numerous phases that play with loud-soft dynamics. It serves as an aural metaphor for the stop-and-start patterns of letting go of the past.
Throughout the record, the Richmond, Virginia-based 22-year-old, working here with multi-instrumentalist Jacob Blizard, deals with the pains of growing up. There’s the burnout that comes from over-thinking (the ornate “The Shell,” which builds from a sparse, circular guitar pattern to one that recalls classically lush arrangements from the likes of Roy Orbison) and the need to speak out and get involved in one’s community (the beautiful “Yours and Mine,” in which Dacus starts in dirge mode before opting for a more assertive stance when backed by Southern harmonies).
The singer’s alto proves both versatile and welcoming. Possessing a natural, informal coziness, Dacus never sounds too downtrodden when slowing down or overly vigorous when upping the tempo—a trait that allows her to toy with a song’s pace. Matador’s vinyl pressing does well to capture the blush of her voice and offer better-than-average separation, balance, and detail that add to the music’s emotional immediacy.
While the orchestrations come across with a slight professional gloss, Dacus manages to make the work feel intimate—as if its contents are spruced-up bedroom recordings. “Addictions” builds to a fuzzed-out chorus, with spare verses constructed around handmade rhythms. “Nonbeliever” features a swift string arrangement that bridges the gap between Dacus’ forlorn vocals and insistent guitars. “Next of Kin” starts with a growl and shows more muscle as it unfolds. It emerges, oddly enough, as the happiest-sounding track despite Dacus singing, “I am a peace with my own death/I can go back to bed.” On an album concerned with accepting loss, consider such a conclusion the welcome appearance of optimism.
Last chance to change your mind...