Tuesday, March 5, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1236: Lucy Dacus

I’ve been discovering a lot of new music lately. Over the weekend I picked up Sharon Van Etten’s new album “Remind Me Tomorrow,” Graham Parker’s 1979 record “Squeezing Out Sparks” three Marissa Nadler records and the Phoebe Bridgers/Conor Oberst collaboration “Better Oblivion Community Centre.”

Fun fact: this next album is another artist Bridgers collaborates with, performing with her in the band “Boygenius.”

Disc 1236 is… Historian
Artist: Lucy Dacus

Year of Release: 2018

What’s up with the Cover? After the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind greet humanity one of them received a gift of bubble gum from a small child in attendance. Tragically, the alien didn’t realize that the combination of the lighter atmosphere of earth – even more pronounced in the mountains – could lead to catastrophe!

How I Came To Know It: I’d heard of Lucy Dacus in my musical wanderings but hadn’t thought to go buy any album. Then my friend Mark bought me this record as a gift, which gave me a chance to explore her in more depth.

How It Stacks Up:  This is the only Lucy Dacus album I have so there is nothing to stack it up against.

Ratings:  3 stars

Sometimes you can admire a record and still realize it isn’t for you. This is the conclusion I reluctantly came to with “Historian”. Lucy Dacus is a talented writer and singer with a long and successful career ahead of her, but there were elements of “Historian” that kept me from giving my heart to it.

Dacus is a dreamy indie-pop artist who sings with a haunting lilt. It is impressive that despite all the air and expanse in her delivery her tone remains rich and powerful. She’s like a ghost that haunts the parlour but you don’t mind so much because she sings so beautifully.

The record starts strong, with “Night Shift” a poignant tale of a relationship that has gone so wrong that the narrator takes a night shift just so she’ll see less of her partner who works 9-5. I’ve heard a few different versions of love songs where the love has gone cold, but this was a pretty novel combination of loathing, regret and avoidance. It made me think of stories when a couple breaks up under bad circumstances but neither one can afford to immediately move out.

The song has solid dynamics, ranging from the light echo of a single piano through to a fuzzed-out guitar reverb, with Dacus’ vocals providing a constancy that the relationship she sings about has long since abandoned. That fuzzed-out guitar reverb gets a bit oppressive near the song’s end, but I suppose that’s her point.

There are other solid tracks on “Historian” as well. “Addictions” has some solid jump and similar skill in moving from a sparse to a lush production and back again. “Nonbeliever” is a song of doubt and sadness caught in a strangely celebratory Gothic sway. It ends with a bit too much clangor, but for the majority is solid and compelling both musically and lyrically.

That issue of the clangor, however, pervades the record. A lot of these songs start off with interesting melodies but layer upon layer of production leads to an overlong flourish at the end where I would have preferred another verse to finish the narrative, or at the very least a musical tag to indicate it was “to be continued.”

To complain too much about this would be to do the record a disservice. The music is designed to evoke an emotional cue more than a narrative one. The repetitive churn of lyric and musical theme at the end of many of the songs is designed specifically to ramp you up and leave you in the moment of that despair or longing. For the most part it is well written and effective, but I just wasn’t feeling it the way it was intended.

Other times I found that there was a snippet of a lyric that gave all kinds of promise, but Dacus was content to let the single phrase twine around the music, rather than develop it any further.  On “Pillar of Truth” she sings:

“I am weak looking at you
A pillar of truth
Turning to dust”

That is cool stuff, but Dacus is content to use its repetition to establish a mood and I wanted to hear more about what came next.

The odd thing was that when I looked up a lot of the lyrics online I found some pretty thoughtful, soulful stuff. Maybe a few more listens would have lodged it better in my mind, but at this point it feels a little buried in all the hum of the production. I found myself longing for a sparser more organic delivery system.

“Historian” was one of last year’s critical darlings. Pitchfork gave it an 8.1 and Paste Magazine gave it 8.7. The more I listen to this record, the more I understand why. These are creative melodies and as an artistic whole, the record is a thoughtful exploration of lost love and the way that loss persists.

What it really came down to was personal taste. While the record was brilliant enough to shine through my own biases, I know in my heart I just won’t listen to this as much as it deserves. It could live in my house, but in my heart I know it deserves to be with someone who works the same shift as it does. That’s not me.

Best tracks: Night Shift, Addictions, Non Believer

No comments: