Lucy Dacus

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No Burden (2016), 6.5/10
Historian (2018), 5.5/10
Home Video (2021), 6/10

Virginia's singer-songwriter and guitarist Lucy Dacus, part of the "sad indie girls" contingent of the 2010s (with Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, Snail Mail and Mitski), debuted with No Burden (2016). Far from being monotonous laments, her dejected stories morph smoothly from stark acoustic elegies to garage-band rave-ups. The seven-minute Map on a Wall exudes melancholy and loneliness but also contains an anthemic raga-like crescendo of voice, guitar and drums. Dream State begins solo, then picks up rhythm as a kind of jangling country music and ends in distorted blues-rock territory. On the other hand, Strange Torpedo is a smoking boogie from beginning to end, in the vein of Adele's Rolling in the Deep, and Troublemaker Doppelganger sounds like a bluesy version of Liz Phair with fuzzed-up guitar, and I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore is a half-baked attempt at radio-friendly power-pop. As a singer, she is limited but versatile. Her vocal skills shine in the swinging and fast-paced Direct Address. She rarely indulges in pure whining. Even at the emotional nadir, she can still be original: if Donovan turned into a zombie, he would sound like Familiar Place.

Historian (Matador, 2018) boasts solid power-ballads with crunchy guitar like Next of Kin, Nonbeliever and Night Shift (the most massive guitar riff yet of her career), at the same time that it indulges in the mournful neoclassical chamber lied Historians and in the agonizing organ-tinged blues Timefighter. Another seven-minute opus and dirge, Pillar of Truth, follows the spiral pattern of Map on a Wall but is less effective, despite an overblown horn section. There is clearly an attempt to make her sound more radio-friendly, but it often backfires. The best melody surfaces in the hymn-like Body to Flame, but the arrangement is overwhelms (in a negative way). Guitar and backing vocals turn Yours & Mine into a bombastic affair. Addictions goes on overdrive for a trivial refrain.

Dacus was also a member of the supergroup Boygenius alongside Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, that released the EP Boygenius (2018).

The autobiographical concept Home Video (Matador, 2021) is a diary of turbulent adolescent memories. If the chilling Thumbs, suspended in a breeze of electronic organ, is the extreme example of spartan storytelling in music, and the brooding Going Going Gone sounds like a slowed-down Bruce Springsteen cover, and Please Stay is a low-key Joni Mitchell-esque piano-based meditation, half of the album is devoted to an attempt to modernize her sound. Hence the martial power-pop of VBS and especially the catchy locomotive-paced First Time; hence the dance-beats of opener Hot & Heavy and of the break-up song Brando. The eight-minute Triple Dog Dare carries on in a monotonous tone until the last minute when it suddenly explodes for a few seconds, hardly an improvement over the model of Map on a Wall. The simple church-like melody of Cartwheel shows what would have been the proper format for an album of memories.

Despite the hype, Boygenius's first full-length album, The Record (2023), was underwhelming.

(Copyright © 2021 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )