The Quiet Genius of Lucy Dacus
Lucy Dacus sings the kind of music you need to be brave to listen to, making her sophomore album “Historian” a profound, melancholic triumph.
By Gabriella Granada
“I hope you are all feeling very strong now,” Lucy Dacus told a sold-out crowd at First Ave in early November, “Because you will need strength to get through this evening.”
The 23-year-old Virginia native toured alongside fellow singers Julien Baker, 23, and Phoebe Bridgers, 24, as the indie rock supergroup “boygenius” this fall. The three met in a studio in L.A. earlier this year and recorded a six-song, self-titled EP in just four days, about the same time it took me to write this 700-word article. Awesome. The three singers have experienced great success in their burgeoning careers, making it easy to forget they’re barely older than I am and would also have trouble renting a car.
At the concert they took the stage one by one, singing their own sets and saving “boygenius” for the encore. They walked on stage wearing matching black blazers decorated with sewn inside jokes and emblems of songs. Drenched in a deep blue haze, they stood in front of a backdrop of twinkling lights that painted them like titans or gods with really cool blazers.
Stitched on the back of Lucy’s blazer is the state of Idaho with a star where the city of Ketchum is located. It’s for the “boygenius”song, “Ketchum, ID,” a swelling, acoustic harmony about physical and emotional vagrancy. Throughout the concert, people reacted viscerally when their favorite singer stepped up to the mic. My favorite is Lucy and her Ketchum, Idaho blazer.
Lucy Dacus is an old soul. She knits; she peruses secondhand book stores; she enjoys a good, lengthy Russian novel. She told Vulture she read classics like “Anna Karenina”in preparation for writing her sophomore album. (I’m still on page 73, a less valiant effort.) She talks about words as things that are to be paid reverence to. That devotion comes through in her songwriting. If she happened to fall into another career, I have no doubt that she would, by some force of nature, end up with a pen in hand anyway.
Lucy Dacus is also obsessed with time—how to control it, to slow it, to fight it. Can’t relate! The seventh song on her sophomore album “Historian” is titled “Timefighter.” There’s a line in it that, when sung by her rich, echoing voice, feels like being sucker punched in slow motion: “And I fight time / It won in a landslide.” I always thought the line was “Ifought time,” in past tense, meaning she’s learned her lesson. It wasn’t until I looked up the lyrics of the song that I realized it’s written in present tense. Maybe Lucy Dacus is admitting she isn’t done fighting time just yet.
Creating devastatingly beautiful albums at lightspeed seems to be Dacus’s forte. Her first album, “No Burden”, started as a college assignment with her friend Jacob Blizard, now her guitarist. They made the album over winter break in two days. She told Pitchfork in 2016, “We listened to it and realized, ‘This is better than we thought it was going to be.’” It was much better—and it didn’t take long for others to notice. Four months later, “No Burden”was released, and within the year, Dacus was featured in Pitchfork for having20 (twenty!) record labels compete for her. She chose Matador as her home, the same as Julien Baker.
I closed my eyes at the concert as Lucy sang “The Shell” and her lyrics wrapped around me. “You don't wanna be a creator / Doesn't mean you've got nothing to say / Put down the pen, don't let it force your hand.”
“A lot of the songs are about the parts of life that people get caught under,” she told the BBC.
How do you forget a person you never thought you’d need to? How do you let go? Should you fear death? What about time? Should you fight your urge to capture everything around you—or embrace it?Lucy Dacus stands still in the eye of a storm of uncertainty and begins to write. I can’t think of a more trusted historian to hold the pen.