Album Of The Week

Bittersweet songs of Lucy Dacus and her peers



Lucy Dacus


4/5 stars

In an age of fast fingers and surf-and-turf, it is easy to listen to a song you have never heard of, but it is equally easy to skip the track if it does not capture your attention.

No Burden by Lucy Dacus.

That is why it is remarkable for any artist to break out these days, let alone have a hit.

It says tremendously about the munificent gifts of two 20-year-old songsmiths - Julien Baker from Memphis, Tennessee, and now, Lucy Dacus, from Richmond, Virginia - who have made an impression on critics and fans.

Earlier this year, I reviewed Baker's debut Sprained Ankle, praising her bell-clear voice and candour about her depression, faith and substance abuse. And now, a chance review I read online has led me to Lucy Dacus, who is touring with Baker this year.

In fact, Baker gave the ultimate endorsement when she tweeted recently: "Listening to @lucydacus makes me feel like putting on aviator sunglasses in slow motion."

The description is apt: Dacus has a distinctly warm, fuzzy alto, drawling out each vowel with such loving care, even as she sings about the pressure of fitting in or finding connection.

No Burden, recorded in a day in Nashville, is a beauteous missive from a newcomer who is not a girl, not yet a woman (to borrow a certain Britney Spears song).

"Was it that girl, that beautiful girl/Thirsty for love and eager for attention/Was it that girl who taught me about destruction?" she asks in Troublemaker Doppelganger, a bluesy rocker on the loss of innocence.

The opening salvo, I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore, is a short, punchy rocker similarly questioning the stricture of social roles one plays.

"Is there room in the band?" she asks over scuzzy guitar riffs and staccato drums, then adds: "I don't need to be the frontman/If not then I'll be the biggest fan."

The calm, slurry delivery belies the bittersweet wit of her meta-textual songs. She may sound older and wiser, like a world-weary Sharon Van Etten or a witty Courtney Barnett, but the subjects are herself and her peers.

Strange Torpedo is a doozie, which may be addressed to herself or to someone close who is self-destructing. "I thought you'd hit rock bottom, but I'm starting to think that it doesn't exist," she spits in no uncertain terms over driving drums and gnarled riffs.

She concludes: "You've been falling for so long and you haven't hit anything solid yet… You're a strange torpedo on the loose and I'll play the fool."

This is the state of flux: open, dangerous and brimming with possibilities - and she will take them on.

In Trust, a midnight dirge on getting burnt and growing up, she declares, strumming softly: "I decided long ago/To make the most of what I know/And worry not of what I don't."

She would move on, imperturbable, come what may.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2016, with the headline 'Bittersweet songs of Lucy Dacus and her peers'. Print Edition | Subscribe