On her most intimate work to date, Lucy Dacus invites audiences to a private screening of her youth, namely, the moments that leave an indelible mark on one’s heart.
Dacus’ second album, 2018’s Historian, saw the Virginia songwriter confronting grief and loss in their varying guises, buoyed by a distinctive air of hope. Dacus’ apparent philosophy of hope bears resemblance to the writings of Rebecca Solnit; hope is an action and one we are all required to engage in directly in order to move forward, and as such provides a way into her latest release. Home Video itself is an act of recovery–inclusive of memories, of times and of people, and fundamentally of Dacus herself.
Springsteen-esque and wittily titled “Hot and Heavy” strikes a particular balance between distance and longing in the aching that characterises much of the album. At risk of sounding obtuse, what’s so distinctive is the sense of Dacus really watching these “tapes” back and seeing memories transform before her eyes, renewed or made clearer by a mature mind–“I’m in a second story window and you’re yelling at me, “Stella!” / And I’m laughing ’cause you think you’re Brando / But you’ll never come close,” she sings on a track named after the iconic performer of Tennessee Williams’ Stanley Kowalski.
Though religion is a prominent and recurring facet to the album, on “VBS” (Vacation Bible School) the passing of time allows Dacus to readdress the sincerity of her faith at that time, and laugh affectionately over a Slayer obsessed, nutmeg snorting first boyfriend.
Dacus’ fierce and uncompromising loyalty to those dear to her comes to the fore on tracks “Christine” (“I’d rather lose my dignity / Than lose you to somebody who won’t make you happy”), and “Thumbs”. A stormy atmosphere, perhaps crashing waves, loom in the background complementing the violent intensity of the track. To hear Dacus’ voice quiver reveals why it is no surprise the track’s official release has been on hold for some time.
The jury’s still out on “Partner in Crime”, a track that is set apart by its heavily electronic instrumentation and auto-tuning. It’s an unexpected departure from the alt-folk indie rock we have come to know and love of a Lucy Dacus release. That said, it’s befitting that on an album written for herself and no one else Dacus should defy expectations. It would be churlish to suggest that the track detracts in any way from an ultimately stunning release.
Alain de Botton’s suggestion that “The moment we cry in a film is not when things are sad but when they turn out to be more beautiful than we expected them to be,” couldn’t be more pertinent to the album’s closing moments. The balance of tenderness and desperation on “Please Stay” is testament to Dacus’ remarkably astute songwriting, elevated by the addition of harmonies from friends, and boygenius bandmates, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker.
Each listen effects that tingling sensation right in the tip of your nose. “Triple Dog Dare” is the last VHS tape Dacus brushes the dust off, for this album at least. In the process of recovering what wasandhas been, she returns to what almost was in a budding queer romance–cruelly pruned by a disapproving mother.
The introduction of dream-like instrumentation–twinkling starlight on piano, and the bleeping of two satellites passing in the night – signals the song’s transition to fiction. With a steady drum beat kicking in like a heart restarting, the seven-minute album-closer swells to its anthemic finale.
Haiku review: Dacus presses play On loving and losing, and Finds herself again.