Singer/songwriter Lucy Dacus gets heavier — both in her lyrics and style of music — on her brilliant sophomore outing Historian (Matador Records). She takes a bold leap from her wonderful 2016 debut album No Burden and unleashes a turbulent new edge, filled with harder rock and bigger arrangements to convey her heart-achingly emotional reflections on self and those close to her.
The album announces this more muscular new side right away with the six-and-a-half-minute opener “Night Shift,” a post-breakup tale that begins with Dacus’ unique, mellow voice relating that “The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit, I had a coughing fit/I mistakenly called them by your name/I was let down, it wasn’t the same” with a guitar strumming softly behind it. As the story builds in intensity, distorted guitars suddenly kick in and Dacus’s voice works up to a wail somewhere between plaintive and cathartic.
Dacus writes about losses of love and life with tender, aching poignancy. “I am weak looking at you/A pillar of truth turning to dust,” she sings in the outstanding “Pillar of Truth,” a song about dealing with her grandmother’s death. In the examination of relationships “Addictions,” she relates that “I’m just calling ‘cause I’m used to it/And you’ll pick up ‘cause you’re not a quitter.”
Besides the punchier electric guitar touches, Historian adds horns, strings, and other flourishes to Dacus’ arsenal, but her honey-like voice is the star of these songs. The richer arrangements here as compared with No Burden elevate her work to a higher plane, one filled with an abundance of fragile beauty and a sense of strength that relates how life’s hardships can ultimately be overcome, at least until the next one comes along.
The ringing, jangling, and blasting guitars that announce Dacus’ more muscular approach to her work are a fine fit with the cautious optimism that runs through her lyrics. She is taking her arrangements, voice, and words to new places, and though she is only at the exciting beginning of her career, she has already unleashed a masterpiece with Historian.
Lucy Dacus, “Night Shift”
Lucy Dacus, “Addictions”