Jun 23, 2021
By Mark Moody
Whether your generation’s story of self-sacrifice revolves around kid’s books such as The Rainbow Fish and The Giving Tree, or Jesus Christ himself, Lucy Dacus gives us so much of herself on her third album, Home Video, that it’s a wonder there is anything but a steaming husk of herself left at the end. Having recently migrated away from her childhood home of Richmond, Virginia, Dacus, aided by primary collaborator Jacob Blizard, picks apart her pre-teen and not-so-far beyond years with her typically strong-eyed attention to detail. In alternating roles of prey (“Partner in Crime”), protector (“Thumbs,” “Christine”), and tongue-in-cheek predator (“First Time,” “Triple Dog Dare”), Dacus recounts the formative days and relationships that shaped her. As a lyric-driven album, its musical nuances take several listens to start to sink in and if it doesn’t hold the immediacy of her last album, 2018’s Historian, it’s well worth the time to connect with Dacus’ past.
Unlike Dacus’ last time out, Home Video leaves its slow build epic for its end. The album opens with “Hot & Heavy,” a song that starts with a simply laid out bed of synths that quickly builds to a mid-tempo rocker with a Springsteen-ish “Dancing in the Dark” bridge. As with many of Home Video’s tracks, the song contends with romantic pursuits fogged by uncertain desires and unflagging hormones. Dacus as pursuer reappears in the bracing “First Time,” where the image of her as cat burglar, splayed out on the floor, makes for a vivid and hilarious picture. But the mix of pathos and humor hits its height on the closer, “Triple Dog Dare.” An early glimpse of a queer relationship, Dacus becomes the unlikely “neighborhood kid you’re not allowed to play with.” The line, “your mama read my poem,” brings both a knowing smile and a lump to the throat. While the sound of a string of bells on a drugstore door and the threat of running away from home “on your parents’ boat,” brings the specificity to paint the picture of a doomed relationship that feels like the one here that meant the most to Dacus.
Given the Herculean effort that must have gone into recounting these tales of her youth, it’s not surprising that Dacus does a remarkable job of plumbing deep wells of empathy towards several of her subjects. The live set crowd favorite, “Thumbs,” makes its recorded debut here and recounts an encounter standing by the side of a friend who’s the product of a broken home. And the gentle pace of the piano- and strings-driven “Christine” shows Dacus’ inner dialogue imagining upholding her friend’s honor against a boyfriend she doesn’t quite trust. In playing things out to a wedding of the future, Dacus imagines herself in position to “throw my shoe at the altar,” in objection to the proceedings.
But if there is a song that impacts here as it plays out, as folk songs are wont to do, the brief “Going, Going, Gone” shares a title and the emotional impact of Dylan’s best. Dacus recounts park bench moments with a first crush (“I wasn’t sure if he and I were going out”), but the relationship in the song goes from “going out,” to “going down,” to Dacus’ ultimate departure from town and Home Video’s subjects. As her left hand lets go of this song’s Daniel, another song’s Christine, and a myriad of others, her right hand connects with future friends and life as an adult. Appropriately, Dacus’ boygenius brethren, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, along with a dozen others, provide a choral assist and gentle landing as the song closes out. The microphone captures the studio chatter and Dacus’ declaration, “I am so happy.” Of course she is referring to perfecting the recording and her vision for the song, but it also speaks to the hoped for outcome of awkward relationships, leaving home for good, and finding friends that love you for who you are and not for the fact you lived next door.
The album’s songs may not hold the immediate compositional grip of Historian’s jewel boxes like “The Shell” or “Body to Flame,” but that’s not Home Video’s purpose. It’s here to relay Dacus’ own formation stories, which serve as parables relatable to all. She has memories of being splayed out like a starfish on a kitchen floor; of spices snorted in a camp bunk; or a clutch of dried flowers hanging from the ceiling. Where your own memories may be of promise rings woven from blades of St. Augustine grass or sneaking a first cigarette on the roof of your parents’ house. Regardless of her context or yours, Dacus weaves a broad scale epic full of lusty almost adventures, broken hearts, dashed dreams, and damsels in distress that couldn’t quite be saved. Home Video will appeal to Dacus’ existing fan base, but also holds the potential to bring hordes of new fans that will find themselves in the middle of a story not exactly their own. (www.lucydacus.com)
Author rating: 8/10
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