Lucy Dacus - Historian (Matador Records)
For 47 tumultuous minutes on Historian, Lucy Dacus grapples with loss and change, from failed relationships (“Night Shift”), loss of religion (“Nonbeliever”), to struggling with how to move forward in the face of the inevitability of death (“Timefighter,” “Next of Kin”). Heady stuff, but Dacus' arrangements on these tracks make it all approachable, full of little flourishes, like a sudden horn sting on “Addictions,” or the tuneful guitar work at the beginning of “Timefighter.”
Despite the potentially heavy material, Dacus is always able to wring something approaching hope, even joy out of these subjects. Album opener Night Shift builds from quiet introspection about a final meeting with an ex to a barrage of fuzzy guitars and thudding drums, with Dacus belting out the lyrics, “In five years I hope these songs feel like covers/dedicated to new lovers”, perhaps reflecting a belief that love will return, even though that particular relationship ended badly. On “Next of Kin,” she argues that even the idea that there is much we'll never do in our brief time alive can be a source of solace: “Sweet relief, I will never be complete/I'll never know everything.”
And why shouldn't there be some hope amongst the messy, painful business of life? Or if not hope, then at least a little grace amidst the confusion. “Pillar of Truth,” a song about the death of Dacus' grandmother, allows the perspective to switch back and forth from Dacus to her grandmother, who wishes “Lord, have mercy/On my descendants/For they know not/What they do”. Clocking in at over seven minutes, the song arrives at a triumphant, horn-filled catharsis as Dacus sings, “If my throat can't sing/Then my soul screams out to you”.
Loss and change are inescapable parts of the whole experience of being alive, but as the album closes out with the title track's quiet meditation on relationships and their inevitable ends, it also seems to argue that taking the time to savour the moments in between is important. After all, it'll all be history someday.
- Ben Rollo