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Arts & Culture, Reviews

‘Home Video’ shows Lucy Dacus at her best

Steeped in faith, youth, nostalgia, “Home Video" cements Dacus as one of the best songwriters in the game

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Lucy Dacus used experiences from her upbringing as inspiration for her album "Home Video."

For years, Lucy Dacus has been one of indie’s best kept secrets. After bubbling under the surface as a member of the group boygenius with Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker and after the release of her first album “No Burden,” Dacus’ sophomore record “Historiangarnered her a reach she’d never had before. 

In the wake of these successes, Dacus released “Home Video,” a project built through powerful vignettes of her upbringing that ultimately produce her most coherent project yet. And despite all her development, her signature style is still there: The songs are mostly mid-tempo ballads featuring pensive and enchantingly specific lyrics.

Sonically, we hear Dacus stepping out of her comfort zone. “Partner in Crime” is the most experimental track, featuring autotuned and distorted vocals and dirty drums. As the haunting line “I get vertigo looking down and looking in” bleeds into a crunchy and wide guitar solo, you know Dacus has made the perfect sad-indie anthem that will be scream-sung by teenagers in cars for years to come. Listeners are also treated to Dacus’s boygenius bandmates singing background vocals on “Please Stay” and “Triple Dog Dare.” 

The album’s lead single, “Thumbs,” might just be the high point of Dacus’s songwriting career. Written about watching a friend deal with a strained paternal relationship, she goes through the pain of seeing someone you love be mistreated. The song is sparse, featuring just Dacus’s vocals and a soft synth. While in many cases this level of simplicity feels boring, the exquisite vocal delivery on the track means that every line of “Thumbs” leaves listeners on the edge of their seat, hungry for more and wondering where the story will go next.

“Thumbs” was a track written years ago and has been a fan favorite on her tours. But only those lucky enough to see Dacus live had heard it prior to its release — Dacus asked listeners not to record because the track was often impossible to get through without crying, and she felt the emotion could not be captured by soundbites on social media.

In an interview with Pitchfork, Dacus said that after she wrote “Thumbs,” “I started crying and thought I was going to throw up. Early on, I cried a lot playing it.” This kind of reaction makes sense, for the song is utterly gut-wrenching. On “Thumbs” she writes: “You’ve been in his fist ever since you were a kid / But you don’t owe him shit even if he said you did.”

Above all else, “Thumbs” is a stellar example of Dacus’s commitment to her craft. Each song on “Home Video” is so intensely personal that listeners almost feel like Dacus has grabbed them by the hand and brought them along to watch her grow up in real time. She delves into faith, youth, love and friendship.

On “Christine,” Dacus writes a warning to a friend, singing: “If you get married, I’d object / Throw my shoe at the altar, lose your respect / I’d rather lose my dignity / Than lose you to somebody who won’t make you happy.” The lyric represents the kind of angsty kick that rumbles below Dacus’s sweet vocals and slow tempos. It’s a sign of the type of growing up that requires a little rebellion — one that is in no short supply on this album. 

The theme of faith is sprinkled throughout the album, and understandably so. While Dacus no longer subscribes to a single religion, Christianity was nonetheless a big part of her upbringing. On “Triple Dog Dare,” she writes a queer love story about falling in love with a friend without even realizing it and having faith drive the young lovers apart: “Your mama read my palm / She wouldn’t tell me what she saw / But after that, you weren’t allowed to spend the night / I’m staring at my hands / Red ruddy skin, I don’t understand.” 

The song ends with the two running away, a picture of escapism that Dacus purposefully wanted to use to conclude the album. After an album filled with nostalgia, ending with this moment of uncertainty makes perfect sense. While it might represent Dacus wrestling with her faith and newfound fame, it’s also representative of all sorts of new beginnings. Coming off of a year of immense societal loss, Dacus invites listeners to take one final look back and step into the unknown.

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