2021 • ALTERNATIVE/ROCK • MATADOR
On her autobiographical third full-length record, American singer and songwriter Lucy Dacus shows the best compositions and the most intimate sound of her career.
The cover of Lucy Dacus’ third album is the most interesting cover of her career. In it, we can see Dacus sitting in a movie theater. Onscreen, a dark blue background spills over the edges of the screen and a video cassette tape appears bright in burst tones. Lucy, in her turn, is alone in the audience, looking back, almost as if she’s making sure you and I are really paying attention to the movie. A ghost is projected from her face, while sunbeams illuminate a certain part of the chairs. It’s a vintage, old scene, Dacus seems like an anachronistic element within everything and the schedule for the day is her third album, Home Video.
The album’s name couldn’t be more appropriate. Dacus wrote given her past, her coming-of-age years growing up in Richmond, Virginia. She sings about passions, sexual orientation, existing crises, religion, friendship, and self-identification. All this with a warm vintage air, almost as if it was that old tape that was kept in an attic. Her composition has never sounded so precise, vivid, and ambitious, and her sound, despite its dubious choices that don’t always seem to be the best truck, manages to be at the same time something nostalgic but that matches the Dacus personality today. It’s the perfect combination of a past that taught a lot and that should be remembered with a proud present.
The main feature that turns Home Video into something that sounds really cozy, homesick, and really personal is its sound. The album revolves around strings, percussions, pianos, keyboards, and synthesizers that walk the line between something simple and usual and something innovative. “Christine,” for example, is one of the fondest points sonically speaking. Although there isn’t much variation, Dacus’ vocals, with subtle piano notes and lost chords on a guitar, create a melodic sound that together with the lyrics generates an extremely moving and beautiful piece. “First Time,” in its turn, makes good use of synthetic voice remixing, almost creating a timeless anthem. Afterward, “Cartwheel,” comes across as one of the simplest, that magically is also one of the grandest soundings, and “Going Going Gone,” becomes the most acoustic piece on the record, with Dacus singing along with her friends. She says at the end, “Thank you everyone for doing this. I owe y’all whatever you ask of me for the rest of my life.”
But, this does not always work out completely. On some tracks, Dacus seems to have opted for certain sonic choices that didn’t add a lot to the final product and sometimes even kind of screwed up. Look at “Hot & Heavy,” which starts out simpler but then Lucy opts for something more synthetic that seems to distort her voice to try to generate something more pop. Meanwhile, “Partner In Crime,” is the most sonically innovative track on the record. However, despite the experimentation that Dacus is doing here, you can’t not feel that everything is geared towards trying to create something more captivating in front of the pop strands, or at least, the alternative that manages to be more successful. At least the guitar solo here is one of the best points on the record.
However, the most powerful point of Home Video is the composition of Dacus. By far, this is her most intimate and powerful album of hers, with songs that sound like sharp poetry of infinite imagery potential. The album opener is one of those points where the imagination shines strongly. She starts by investigating her life after the move and how some good things from her past cannot be reproduced in her new life. The memory of an old friend is still alive. She begins, “Being back here makes me hot in the face,” and then concludes, “You were always stronger than people suspected/Underestimated and overprotected.” She continues this throughout the album, in “Christine,” she tells the story of a friend who is with a partner who doesn’t deserve her (“Other nights, you admit he’s not what you had in mind”). Finally, “Brando,” shows the singer investigating her childhood and social relationships in her childhood and adolescence with friends who were not that good. While everything shines with subtlety and simplicity, she sings, “You told me to skip school to go with you to movies,” and then, “You never knew me like you thought you did.”
Obviously, the best songs on Home Video are the ones where she hits these two points with (almost) perfection. “VBS,” which stands for vacation bible school, is the best. While her voice shines with synthesizers and a 2000s rock guitar, she sings about the experiences of going to one of these camps. “In the evening, everybody went to worship and weep/Hands above our heads, reaching for God,” she sings. It is in this song that Dacus’ composition reached its apex. “Thumbs” appears as the darkest version of “Kyoto,” by Phoebe Bridgers, with whom Dacus had formed a musical group. Both tracks share the problems with their father figures, however, Dacus looks even more hurt, singing in the chorus, “I would kill him/If you let me/I would kill him/Quick and easy.”
But the final stretch becomes one of the most cathartic, sad, and heavy moments in the entire Home Video. In “Please Stay” Dacus almost cries as he sings to a friend who is thinking about suicide. The soft strings and piano in the background make room for his voice to carry the words of a person who feels unable to help a friend who asks for help. She sings, “I think you mean what you say/When you say you wanna die,” but what she means, more than anything, is, “But please stay.” In the final song, “Triple Dog Dare,” she recounts a friendship with a friend that could have turned into a romance but was interrupted by the girl’s parents. “Your mama read my palm/She wouldn’t tell me what it was she saw/But after that, you weren’t allowed to spend the night,” she sings.” I think I’m left with the last line on the record, “Nothing worse could happen now.”