Lucy Dacus – Home Video

Virginian songwriter finds universal truths in autobiographical memories.

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In 2019, Lucy Dacus marked seven significant national holidays (including Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Bruce Springsteen’s birthday) with a new song. The resulting EP, her last formal release to date, skewed towards covers. But, as those songs were being released, she was also working on her most inward-looking project yet.

Recorded at the same Nashville studio and with many of the same collaborators, as 2018’s Historian, Home Video is Dacus at her most autobiographical and lyrically direct. Its 11 tracks draw from her youth in Richmond, Virginia – lost friendships, fierce loyalties, Christian youth groups, park bench make-out sessions – with the specificity of contemporary diary entries or, yes, dusty old family videos. “My heart’s on my sleeve, it’s embarrassing”, Dacus sings on one track, “the pulpy thing, beating”.

The turn inward, says Dacus, was partly prompted by the acclaim that followed her last album, and that same year’s team-up with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers as boygenius (the pair provide backing vocals on Home Video, as Dacus did on each of her friends’ recent career-bests). More attention meant people “projecting their ideas of who I was onto me”, she says, her identity “publicly observed and reflected” in press profiles and interviews.

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Dacus tackles this disconnect head on in the album’s giddy rush of an opening track. While the subject of Hot & Heavy reads like an old flame, the memories that bring heat to her cheeks are of her closeted, church-going teenage self. “It’s bittersweet to see you again”, Dacus sings as strings and piano speed to catch up, the song’s soaring epilogue the soundtrack to running through the changing streets of your hometown.

The old flames turn up later, as Dacus shifts her focus to the people burned into her formative memories: the friends, the lovers and those somewhere in between. Christine, of the titular track, is a friend who disappears into an overbearing relationship but one for whom Dacus would embarrass herself at a wedding when the congregation is asked for objections. There’s the unnamed bible school classmate of VBS writing bad poetry, snorting nutmeg and waiting for a revelation; there’s Daniel, who was never a boyfriend, and the illicit affair at the heart of Partner In Crime. And then there’s Brando, desperate to impress the girl who only wants to kiss: You called me cerebral, sings Dacus, her lament that of every bookish teen. “Would it have killed you to call me pretty instead?”

It’s a clever trick: blending specific details straight from memoir with the eloquence of hindsight and, where needed, a pinch of wilful fiction, finding points of universal connection amid all the personal nostalgia. Nowhere is this more apparent than Thumbs, which combines tenderness and violence in a fantasy about murdering a college friend’s deadbeat dad. The song was inspired by a very specific memory but became a live favourite, so beloved by fans that, at Dacus’ request, no unofficial recordings ever appeared online. It’s easy to imagine their protectiveness mirroring that of Dacus towards her friend, her voice steely yet vulnerable, rising softly from a bed of dreamlike synthesiser.

The music undoubtedly plays its own part in the songs’ immediacy. Where, previously, Dacus’ voice – a warm and comforting thing – sometimes sunk into cracks in the instrumentation, the musical accompaniment here acts to heighten the words. Frequent collaborators – bassist Jacob Blizard, drummer Jake Finch and producer Collin Pastore – know when to pull back and when to uplift: Cartwheel, a dreamlike nursery rhyme reverie and one of the oldest songs on the album, particularly benefits from this approach; looped autoharp, classical guitar and harmonies from so few studio personnel emphasising the intimacy of the memory.

With those quiet moments as a point of contrast, the times when the band let rip or invite others into their circle properly soar. Going Going Gone has the feel of a campfire singalong, ending with the participants – including, according to the liner notes, everyone from some of Dacus’ oldest friends to Mitski, boygenius and Julien Baker’s dog Beans – clapping and giggling in the studio. First Time is a tale of sexual awakening propelled by chugging drums and distortion pedals, and Partner In Crime pairs synths with an uncharacteristic autotuned vocal, petal-plucking innocence juxtaposed with the squalor of a toxic relationship.

The album closes with a rock epic to rival Historian’s Night Shift. Triple Dog Dare is part truth, part queer first-love fantasy in which two friends run away from their religious upbringing to live on a boat. As distorted percussion swells, Dacus leaves the ending ambiguous: these stories, she says, are yours now.

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