Lucy Dacus – Historian

‘Night Shift’’s anger, confronts death while alive with possibilities.

Lucy Dacus - Historian

‘Night Shift’’s anger, confronts death while alive with possibilities.

Label: Matador Records
Released: 2nd March 2018
Rating: ★★★

Take a look at the cover of ‘Historian’. There are mountains, and, apparently floating high above them, there’s a figure, holding a red balloon between their teeth. But they could be falling – plummeting earthward, vainly clinging on. It fits this cautiously buoyant, downbeat but driven album perfectly.

If the Richmond, Virginia-based artist’s first album – 2016’s ‘No Burden’ – was made because she could, seizing the opportunity of an open day at a Nashville studio, quickly assembling a band, ‘Historian’ is “the album I needed to make”, according to Dacus. And it shows. It’s a dark but graceful rock album – or perhaps a heavy singer-songwriter one – with songs that are at times intensely, almost uncomfortably personal.

But, “hope survives, even in the face of the worst stuff”, and even in its darkest moments, silvery shreds of optimism shine. The opening ‘Night Shift’ – a breakup song of two distinct halves – is a perfect example. Starting as frustrated, futile dissection (“Am I a masochist, resisting urges to punch you in the teeth / Call you a bitch and leave?”) over sparse, strummed guitar, Dacus takes a sudden sharp right, into a tumbling, fuzzy and valiant refrain – “You got a 9 to 5, so I’ll take the night shift/And I’ll never see you again if I can help it.”

Leaving aside the musical surprises – the way ‘Body To Flame’ lurches from gentle waltz into atonal angularity, or the thick, over-saturated guitar solo that punctuates ‘Yours and Mine’ – and her deep, rich voice, Dacus is a great lyric writer, and ‘Historian’ is peppered with memorable lines.

‘Night Shift’ expresses her intent to leave behind the breakup – and that version of herself – neatly (“In five years I hope the songs feel like covers/Dedicated to new lovers”). ‘The Shell’ deals with regret and feelings of emptiness candidly – “If the body and the life were two things that we could divide / I’d deliver up my shell to be filled with somebody else” – while the band pile in, the music still aiming skyward even as everything falls apart.

And finally, the tender title track, the words of a character who’s moved far away from ‘Night Shift’’s anger, confronts death while alive with possibilities, suggesting that new stories are about to written – “I’ll be your historian, and you’ll be mine / Then one day the motorcade… will come to take one of us away / leaving the other with plenty to read.” Rob Mesure

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