Like so many of us, Lucy Dacus is wary of what comes next. “The future isn’t worth its weight in gold/ The future is a benevolent black hole,” she sings in the closing lines of “Cartwheel.” Dacus flickers through early memories with a poetic flair: “firefly juice” and the “cracked blacktop curling up,” a high school “betrayal like I’d never felt before” and a long-abandoned dream of running away to the woods and never coming back. Her songs bide their time stuck between past, present, and future, never completely comfortable in any of them. Dacus’ third album, Home Video, plays out like a short story collection pulled from the Richmond-born musician’s own life, a grainy VHS supercut that unspools so quickly it could make one queasy. But Dacus sounds steady and assured as she revisits specific moments in minute detail. Her songs might get stuck in the swirl of time, but her voice and writing has a way of drawing the listener in, following the narrative threads wherever they might lead.
On her last album, Dacus deemed herself a Historian, a responsibility she saddled herself with as the official chronicler of her own life. Dacus still takes that vocation seriously. On Home Video, she consulted her childhood journals to get a handle on how she perceived events from her past as they were happening. With the benefit of hindsight, Dacus wrote songs that take place both in-the-moment and far beyond it. They’re diaristic but also analytical. Dacus is wry and observant and nostalgic, though she’s determined not to lose any progress she’s made as she traipses back through her own history. She wants to learn from her mistakes in order to better prepare for her future. On the rousing “First Time,” she insists: “You can’t feel it for the first time a second time.” But the immediacy of the songs on Home Video suggest that maybe you can at least come close.
Many of the songs on Home Video take the form of character sketches, portraits of people in Dacus’ life that taught her who she wants to be and who she does not. Dacus can be withering when she so chooses. On “Brando,” she recalls a boy whose movie intake was a stand-in for an actual personality. She sings about feeling unappreciated by someone who is clever but not as clever as he thinks. “You called me cerebral/ I didn’t know what you meant, but now I do,” goes its most biting line. “Would it have killed you to call me pretty instead?” On “Thumbs,” Dacus pictures what it would be like to take revenge on a friend’s absent father: “I love your eyes and he has ’em/ Or you have his ’cause he was first/ I imagine my thumbs on the irises, pressing in until they burst.”
But more often than not, Dacus is tender and understanding toward the people she’s singing about. She’s sympathetic to how hard and confusing it is to grow up because she certainly knows herself. There’s her first boyfriend, who writes bad poetry and listens to Slayer to drown out the chaos of his own troubled life and tries to find solace in religion at Vacation Bible School. There’s “Christine,” a friend who Dacus sees disappearing into a relationship and losing herself in the process. “You always wanted to raise a baby by the lake,” she sings. “Maybe they’ll grow up and never make the same mistakes/ Knowing you, they’d be the first kid to never hurt another.” And on “Partner In Crime,” amidst a tangled web of AutoTune, she recounts a relationship with an older man. But she doesn’t feel taken advantage of; instead, she validates her own passion in the moment. “It was a welcomed waste of time,” she sings. “Eating cherries on the bridge, feet tangling, throwing the pits and stems into the racing current below.”
Dacus is a natural storyteller, someone who seems like they’d be fun to be in a book club with. The narratives on Home Video are messy and complicated and thematically rich. That’s reflected in the meandering, unhurried arrangements on the album. These songs are lyrics-forward and often take their cues from the stories that Dacus tells. She’s found a crew of collaborators — which include Collin Pastore, Jacob Blizard, and Jake Finch — who she’s comfortable enough with to be able to take this subtle approach to putting together an album. Home Video hangs looser. It sounds softer and gentler and more confident than her last two albums, and it allows for a whole lot of open space. Dacus can still write a scorcher when she wants to — see the blistering opener “Hot & Heavy” and the pulsing “First Time” — but there are a lot of stripped-back and quieter songs on Home Video.
For some of those, Dacus called on the musician friends she’s made over the years. On “Please Stay,” she reunites with her boygenius brethren Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers to coo out a series of imperatives: “Quit your job/ Cut your hair/ Get a dog/ Change your name/ Change your mind/ Change your ways.” It’s one of Home Video‘s starkest and prettiest songs, second maybe only to “Going Going Gone,” which was recorded in one take with a chorus of voices that included Mitski, Baker, Bridgers, and many more. It ends with Dacus thanking everyone in the studio for capturing a fleeting moment of beauty.
In interviews, Dacus has talked about how she was fascinated with the way memory degrades over time, how each time you recall a specific event you lose more of what actually happened. It’s an idea she derived from Lidia Yuknavitch’s memoir The Chronology Of Water, which explores how memories can be fallible and how we shouldn’t trust our own perceptions. By writing songs so deeply derived from her own experiences, Dacus is attempting to memorialize parts of herself while she still can. A song is a static thing, one that will outlast a memory even after it’s fully disintegrated. On Home Video, Dacus sounds intent on recapturing a moment that’s already gone.
Home Video is out 6/25 via Matador.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Tyler, The Creator’s Call Me If You Get Lost.
• Modest Mouse’s The Golden Casket.
• The Mountain Goats’ Dark In Here.
• Doja Cat’s Planet Her.
• Hiss Golden Messenger’s Quietly Blowing It.
• Faye Webster’s I Know I’m Funny haha.
• Hiatus Kaiyote’s Mood Valiant.
• MIKE’s Disco!.
• SAULT’s Nine.
• Darkthrone’s Eternal Hails.
• John Grant’s Boy From Michigan.
• Split Single’s Amplificado.
• Helvetia’s Essential Aliens.
• Gaspard Augé’s Escapades.
• Pom Pom Squad’s Death Of A Cheerleader.
• 2nd Grade’s Wish You Were Here Tour Revisited.
• Squirrel Flower’s Planet (i).
• SPELLLING’s The Turning Wheel.
• L’Rain’s Fatigue.
• Hurry’s Fake Ideas.
• The Grid and Robert Fripp’s Leviathan.
• Matthew Dear’s Preacher’s Sigh & Potion: Lost Album.
• Lightning Bug’s A Color Of The Sky.
• Absolutely Free’s AFTERTOUCH.
• The Rubinoos’ The CBS Tapes.
• Dave Keuning’s A Mild Case Of Everything.
• Cautious Clay’s Deadpan Love.
• JP SAXE’s Dangerous Levels Of Introspection.
• Rose City Band’s Earth Trip.
• Justine Sky’s Space & Time.
• UB40’s Bigga Baggariddim.
• Buckcherry’s Hellbound.
• Nicolas Godin’s Concrete And Glass: The Expanded Edition.
• Chromeo’s Date Night: Chromeo Live!.
• Ellis’ nothing is sacred anymore EP.
• Drug Church’s Tawny EP.