On first listen Lucy Dacus’ second album is threateningly good – threatened too by the strength of the first song. Night Shift is almost everything and all at once, but in such purposeful, measured strides. It’s almost too intense – take Laura Marling, Margaret Glaspy and Sharon Van Etten, take the best of what they’ve all done and imagine it all condensed down into one six and a half minute song, like Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue, as far as story-songs go, but for a whole new generation in a whole new world.
Actually, I’m reminded most of Elvis Perkins’s astonishing debut, Ash Wednesday. The two albums don’t sound alike in any way at all, but it’s about the statement-of-intent and the quality of the work; I guess it’s also about the turning of tragedy into something profoundly moving, not just artful, always utterly believable, personal, deep – but still crafted into the right song-shape every time too.
Take Addictions, where Dacus sings “Who knew one day it would be so hard to have you by my side?” – and there’s some early Liz Phair guitar-snarl beneath. She’s 23 and writing far beyond her years.
The playing is remarkable too – her arrangements have broadened too. Strings and horns and various effects sit all around that voice; that voice which is capable of summoning heartbreak, of layering in levels of comfort around the grievances; hearing about death and break-ups has never seemed so soothing on a purely sonic level. It reads like chaos and a slow unravelling of course.
On the gentle intro-lick of Yours & Mine (hints of Belly and Throwing Muses) we are lulled into an almost false sense of security. But then the vocal tells us of various vulnerabilities. Elsewhere, it’s to a stoic tribute to her grandmother – “A pillar of truth turning to dust” – it’s where Tiny Ruins might end up, a little more grit no doubt forming. It’s reminiscent of the similarly astonishing moments Nadia Reid has been delivering on record and on the stage.
So Historian builds, and builds, bringing in ex-lovers, or soon to be ex-lovers and friends both bad and good, then there’s the grandmother. We’re slowly, methodically shuffled along towards her death and the celebration and commiseration of her life. And then when we close with the title track – it’s a calming ode, coda to the album’s grief and ghostly/ghosted stories.
It’s a strong statement – backing up the early interest in this artist. A huge effort. Where she goes next is already exciting to ponder. We’re talking Joni Mitchell levels of talent in the lyric-writing, certainly. But no rush. Historians will be around – still seeming wise beyond its years – for a long time. It’s a must-hear.
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