I once heard about a comedy night where people read out their teenage diaries verbatim, finding humour in the shared horror, innocence and stupidity of youth. The event seemed to tap into that instinct we have to laugh at our younger selves, while also letting us envy the openness which only teenagers have. Lucy Dacus’s new album Home Video draws heavily on her own teenage journals and the title refers to her rewatching childhood videos. By looking at the past her music draws power in the universality of life’s specific memories.
Maybe you can only write an album like this when you’re still in your twenties and teenage life is close enough to remember since, it seems to me, the further you age away from that time the more remote and unrecognisable your younger self becomes. A sense of close personal perspective is precisely what Dacus’s songwriting offers us throughout this album.
She begins then ‘Hot and Heavy’ in the ‘basement of your parents place’ reminiscing about her infatuation and the ‘bittersweet’ feelings she had then and now when she revisits these memories and places. The music is all wide screen Springsteen, War on Drugs sheen which works beautifully to evoke those confusing feelings.
A piano slowly echoes through the languid Christine, where she uses the sweeter edges of her voice to sing a song for a friend, reflecting on their dreams and how she is deeply connected to how their life will turn out.
VBS takes us back to the theme of Nonbeliever, on her last album Historian, exploring her evangelical upbringing. British listeners probably will find the story of her summer bible camp equal parts bewildering and terrifying, so far removed is it from our secular society. By the end of the song you just marvel at how she escaped and was able to write about it all in such a clear and cutting way. The portrait of her friend in the song is so distinct and vivid it’s like you went to camp with them. Kudos too for her use of the heavy metal guitars, and the line about bad poetry which both make me laugh every time.
Even though Dacus did join that Newport folk festival Dolly Parton sing along a couple of years back, she resists the temptation to bring in too much Americana or folk music to her indie rock palate, even though you feel she’d be a natural in that arena. So all respect for her keeping the rockier, raw side to her music even on a ballad like Cartwheel she adds a dreamy air to the musical arrangement instead. The closest she gets is Going Going Gone which has the anti-folk feel of the Juno soundtrack, albeit her tale of locking braces on a park bench is more of a PG version.
Thumbs is the cult song which she played live for so long it got its own twitter account demanding its release. The reason is clear when you hear how it savagely takes down an abusive father. You don’t owe him shit even if he said you did. As a note to self it’s a powerful and comforting one.
Another of the best songs on the record is Brando, with its perfect picture of the self-absorbed, pretentious, mansplaining geek who tries to out do you with all their movie references. The lines ‘You called me cerebral/ I didn’t know what it meant / but now I do, would it have killed you / To call me pretty instead’ shows she’s at her best using wry humour to illuminate character flaws. The hook ‘all I need for you to admit / is that you didn’t know me like you thought you did’ helps to make it stand out in an album which seems to deliberately work to avoid easy choruses.
Partner in Crime is a little mis-step since using auto tune underlines the occasional limitations of her vocals (she harmed her voice back at the gig I saw her play in Edinburgh a couple of years back). Being the lead singer when your voice is not a natural strength can be tough on the vocal chords so hey maybe this is just a good reason for her to make another boygenius album. We can live in hope.
She finishes with Triple Dog Dare, reconsidering an intense friendship with another girl and giving it the romantic ending she didn’t even know how to dream of when she was younger, letting the older and wiser version of herself rewrite history and spin it into an epically gorgeous ode to adventure and love.
Overall while there’s no individual song on Home Video as good as Night Shift the quality across the album feels as consistent and more confident than her previous releases. Dacus’s music has beauty, humour, warmth, a novelist’s insight into human relationships – cerebral and pretty, which really is as good as it gets.
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