My days of being impressively in-the-know are long passed. I listen to fresh, young, hip music and think, ‘All of this kinda sounds the same.’ The feeling is especially strong within the realm of quirky singer-songwriters or dream-pop bands with bright Crayola album covers. There are times when I feel jaded, knowing what to expect from every new artist, things like precious lyrics about a new crush, guitars with clean tone and probably some reverb when they want to get fancy, and the inevitability that I will indeed fall asleep in the middle of the album. But then, from some other place, comes work that is truly surprising.
Most recently it was Lucy Dacus, age 22. If you haven’t listened to her March release, Historian, go now. Listen. You can read this later, I won’t mind.
You back? Cool.
Her first album, No Burden, was a solid debut. Lyrically interesting with a few tastes of inventive instrumentation. But it didn’t put its hooks in me. And last month I wasn’t even aware she had a new one coming down the pipe.
A friend sent me the single. “Night Shift” is six and a half minutes of transcendence. Not in a way where you’re floating above your body and your problems have evaporated up into a sunny blue sky. Instead, it creeps up on you, taking a dramatic turn right about halfway through. Suddenly you’re actually listening to the words. When was the last time that happened? And here’s the kicker: those words are killer. Here’s the chorus: “You’ve got a 9-5 so I’ll take the night shift / And I’ll never see you again if I can help it / In 5 years I hope these songs feel like covers / Dedicated to new lovers.”
Good lord. Not vapid, not contrived. Who knew that was even still possible? Dacus’ lyrics are her greatest strength. They don’t make your problems evaporate; they take your problems and distill them, and you are proud to have them, proud to be a human with so many problems.
I realize this sounds pretty lofty for what is ultimately a pop album, but the subjects being tossed around within it are as lofty as it gets: love, emotional fatigue, belief, rebellion, cremation, and failed attempts at self-improvement.
Most surprising is the development of the music itself. The range of sounds used is massive, from home recordings of voicemails to swirling lo-fi bass, alongside sophisticated guitar phrases layered with mounds of pedal effects. “Timefighter,” for example, stays impressively dark in both sound and tone and is well worth the 6-minute runtime.
I am wary of saying too much more. Hopefully you’ve already listened through once and have your own opinion, your own reasons for sobbing in the shower. And hopefully you’ll listen again, sob again. Historians is a companion for days of stress and boredom and self-questioning. It gives you hope that music can still surprise. And when you get to the closing title track, go ahead and comment below. Tell me what it did to your soul.