Lucy Dacus is Telling Us to Be Present

She is bold and biting. But most importantly, honest.

For those who haven’t been introduced to Lucy Dacus yet: she is a 22-year-old indie-rocker who knows how to craft. Whether its words, moods, or emotions, Dacus can craft them. Her recent album, Historian, has been out for just over a month now. And I haven’t stopped playing it. It’s dynamic. Moody. It features full, rich guitars and often, lush strings. Recorded in Nashville, Historian is the Virginia native’s sophomore LP, following her highly praised debut, No Burden.

The ten-track LP begins with “Night Shift,” which runs a full six minutes and 32 seconds. Released as the album’s lead single, it was an ambitious and maybe risky move—but “Night Shift” never once feels like a six-minute ambient ramble you might expect in the indie genre. Instead, the track continually builds and shifts emotions.  It is washed in distortion and nostalgia, while also carrying along a bitter undercurrent. To put it plainly, “Night Shift” is a break-up song.

In the first verse, Dacus sings, “The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit, I had a coughing fit/ I mistakenly called them by your name.” But only to sing a few lines later, “Am I a masochist, resisting urges to punch you in the teeth/Call you a bitch and leave?”

Dacus wrote “Night Shift” after the end of a 5-year relationship with her former bassist, whom she broke up with the day after they finished the No Burden tour. In an interview with Vulture, Dacus said, “I just have never so thoroughly distrusted someone with myself and with strangers. I fear for anyone that comes into contact with him. Maybe that seems really dramatic. But it’s all real and worth saying. I just don’t want him to define me.”

The second track, “Addictions,” carries similar themes, detailing another toxic relationship. In the very sing-along-able chorus, Dacus croons, “I’m just calling cause I’m used to it. You’ll pick up cause you’re not a quitter.” The song builds throughout, ending with Dacus’ clear emotive vocals cutting through silence: “You’ve got addictions too.” She admits addiction to a lover, but also calls out the lover’s own addiction.

One of the album’s more bluesy songs, with a dramatic, raucous, and fuzz-heavy build-up, is “Timefighter.” Its theme is right in the title: We are all unable to beat time and despite our efforts, our time will end. The song then ends abruptly, fittingly so. The melodic tune “Next of Kin” follows, serving as a resolution to “Timefighter.” The lyrics “I am at peace with my death/I can go back to bed” speak of Dacus’ acceptance: the end of the fight against time.  

Another notable track, “Pillar of Truth,” is a tribute to Dacus’ late grandmother. It slowly winds up over its span of seven minutes and 14 seconds. But just like “Night Shift,” it doesn’t feel like seven minutes. The track is charged with biblical references and even features a near-scream from Dacus near minute six: “If my throat can’t sing/Then my soul screams out to you!”

The album culminates into the (almost) title track, “Historians.” The track is hymn-like and simple, with cinematic strings, telling the story of two people who are to be each other’s “historians.” The two stay with each other until the inevitable end, recording and capturing each other’s lives. Dacus has explained she herself is one of these historians, and that the song makes reference to her avid journaling. In an interview with Newsweek, she said, “I've made these albums and I've written these journals, and they're going to exist beyond me and that's kind of a crazy thought.”

Death and endings re-occur throughout Historian and it is a fitting theme for an album titled as such. But somehow, Dacus’ writing of death calls attention to life. Maybe because Dacus isn’t actually dwelling on inevitable death. Instead, she lets the feeling of “presence” ruminate throughout her work. That is, her songs carry the idea that one should be in the present, not in the past or the future—it celebrates mortality.

Talking to Rolling Stone, Dacus said, “The album itself, I hope, asks people to prioritize the things that make them content. And to be aware of, but not caught up in, the eventuality of death."

Dacus has taken turmoil and pain and learned from it, crafting a raw, honest work of art. “If you can come out from under pain, why wouldn’t you? You definitely can. There’s no question,” she told The New York Times.

Cathartic and hopeful art, for both listener and artist, is necessary. So, Lucy Dacus: thank you.

Photo credit to Lucy Dacus, artwork and story by Cheyenne Bilderback. 

Photo credit to Lucy Dacus, artwork and story by Cheyenne Bilderback.