Lucy Dacus’ Historian is my favorite album of the year so far. The indie-rock singer/songwriter has written an album that melds melancholy folk and rock together in a way that makes up for the genre-standard pitfalls of both, and I can’t get enough of it. The album starts with soft and chimed guitars, and they continue throughout. There are more than enough melancholy and relaxed sections, with Dacus’ soulful and occasionally frail voice performing songs that would not seem out of place around a campfire – one with talent giving powers – or at a hip countryside festival.
The problem with most pop-folk singers is that their albums sound pretty much the same. There are some excellent songs out there, but it is difficult (at least for me) to sit and listen through a whole album of one artist. Once I have listened through the best tracks of a couple, I tend to feel like I do not want to hear another finger picked chord again in my life. It is all very moody, and all very atmospheric, but so too is it all very similar. Dacus does not fall into the same trap – her softer sections are compelling – but she has another shield against such doldrums.
That’s the ‘indie rock’ element, which, frankly, sometimes seems more like the influence of a sludge band. It is heavy, it fits the songs well, and it creates an element of surprise that shocks the emotional content of these songs into you with no small force. These parts highlight how well mixed this album is – Dacus’ voice floats gracefully over the fuzzed guitars, repeating her hooks over what sometimes takes the form of just picked chords, and sometimes becomes a wall of guitar and bass. The tone is unusual for this genre, but just works – everything sounds organic and folksy, no matter how distorted it can become.
Dacus’ lyrics, too, are something to be commended. Many moody indie folk artists play on evocative imagery and metaphors that bear little relation to the true roots of folk music (and fair enough for that). Dacus, on the other hand, goes in for the jugular, bluntly describing betrayed loves and …. in an open, brutely honest, but always clever manner. The single you are likely to hear, “Night Shift”, opens and opens the album with the line “The first time I tasted someone else’s spit, I had a coughing fit”, has the refrains of “I feel no reason to forgive, but I might as well”, “You work nine to five, so I’ll take the night shift”, and “In five years I hope these songs will feel like covers”. Frankly, I could quote the whole song – how great a way to introduce you to Dacus’ caustic world than this, and what better way innovatively sum up a great mass of human experience than with her lyrics?
I feel obliged to put in a lyric from another song, so that anyone reading this feels compelled to listen to the whole album rather than just the embedded YouTube link. Another example of the resignation, frankness, and (slight) condemnation that makes up the lyrical themes on this album comes from “Nonbeliever”, and runs as such: “…told your mum that you’re a nonbeliever, she said she wasn’t surprised, but that doesn’t make it ok”. How wonderful.
If soft emotional folk usually turns you off, still try this album out – it might surprise you. If you like that genre, and were looking for something with a bit more bite, both musically and lyrically, go and buy Historian as soon as you can.
Notable Tracks: “Night Shift“, “Unbeliever“, “Timefighter“.
FFO: Emma Ruth Rundle, Emily Jane White.