In 2018 Lucy Dacus released one of the best albums of the year and a collaborative EP as part of boygenius, both of which cemented her place as one of our brightest and best young songwriters. This year she has spent time touring and releasing occasional singles and covers, the results of which are collected in this EP 2019.
EPs like this usually work as a kind of stop gap in between bigger releases but it is testament to Dacus’ talent and ambition that this is not just a random collection of throwaway songs. By grouping them under the theme of American holidays, she has elevated the project into something far more thoughtful.
The original songs on the EP are all quieter than last year’s excellent Historian album, suggesting a move towards folkier introspection. I think this really works and shows a songwriter gaining increased confidence in what she has to say, rather than relying on the loud guitars to make her emotional point. Vocally Dacus remains somewhat limited in terms of range and power but she is able to convey her words with a sense of gravitas all the same. Opener Fools Gold is set on New Year’s, and she sings of throwing a party so she could stay home (this sounds like a perfect plan btw). A new year brings uncertainty and fear too, reflected in the world around her.
The songs appear in chronological year order of the holidays, so next we have La Vie En Rose for Valentine’s Day. Her indie rock version works surprisingly well, and what it lacks in drama it makes up for in charm. Her cover of Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark (released for the Boss’s birthday) has a similar style and equally enjoyable result. The only song on here I don’t like on the tracklisting is ‘In the Air Tonight’ but that’s more to do with my allergy to Phil Collins than anything to do with Dacus.
The other two original songs are both astonishing and some of the best songwriting of Dacus’s career to date. My Mother and I is a hymn to the complexities of that relationship, and also a painfully sad song about understanding your own self in reflection. Forever Half Mast takes on the history of America itself and concludes that remembering and honouring your mistakes is much more important than trying to recapture some false notion of national greatness. Using the pedal steel to echo her sentiments is particularly affecting and effective.
The EP finishes on Last Christmas, an inspired choice and a song which just never gets old to me. I admit I am an 80s baby and since George died on Christmas this song just feels extra beautifully sad now, in that kind of melancholic way you get on Christmas when you’ve had too much mulled wine and it’s freezing outside. So yeah this is the first Christmas song I listened to in 2019 and it even got me into the festive mood, which I usually don’t allow until at least a week into December.
Another year might be over but Lucy Dacus has barely begun. On this evidence her future will shine bright.