So here’s my other favourite album of 2021: Home Video by Lucy Dacus.
I am by no means an expert and I’m wary of being hyperbolic about someone whose work I only discovered a few months ago, but Lucy Dacus might be my favourite working lyricist.
Lyrics are not usually the way in which I get hooked into my favourite music; they’re the things which I come to appreciate once I’m a few listens deep, having been ensnared by instrumentation and the nature and tone of a vocalist rather than the words they’re singing. But this album, an astonishingly vivid bringing-to-life of Dacus’s diaries from her teenage years in Virginia, makes them unmissable right from the off. I adore media that explores themes of nostalgia, time, age and change, so I was at home straight away with opener Hot & Heavy, about returning to your hometown and realising that nothing will ever be as it was when you left it. It begins with a clever contrast of its titular words between the memories of formative encounters with an early flame and the sensations of powerful nostalgia, and then we’re off.
Everything is drawn so clearly that I might as well have been there myself. At no point in the record is this truer than on Thumbs, a devastatingly sparse recollection of Dacus accompanying a friend meeting her shithead absent father. You are never told what exactly this guy did, but by the end of it you’ll want him to suffer just as much as Dacus clearly did. “I would kill him, if you let me,” she sings with breathtakingly controlled rage. “I imagine my thumbs on [his] irises, pressing in until they burst.”
I will try not to go on and on about every song but there are more to which I need to at least pay brief lip service. VBS recounts Dacus’s time at church camp with postcard perfection. Brando paints a picture of one of Those Teenagers who goes all-in on cultural knowledge as his own identity and I dare you not to recognise someone you know in its telling. Please Stay is an utterly plaintive attempt to talk someone down from the edge, armed not with any certainty about how to fix things but a deep, heartfelt empathy all the same.
It’s not just a poetry book, I should stress. Dacus’s voice is a delight on its own, with a worldly quality to it that really backs up the gravitas of her words. There’s some great indie-rock guitar work going on throughout, especially when the intensity gets dialled up for First Time. The album’s only swing-and-a-miss for me is the heavily autotuned Partner in Crime but I appreciate the swing, at least.
The unquestionable highlight of it all in my book, though, is closer Triple Dog Dare. It’s nearly eight minutes long and totally captivating throughout, a recounting of a friendship that fractured when her companion’s conservative mother cottoned onto the signs that at least Dacus herself was barely starting to realise indicated that she might not be entirely straight. Having also now taken evidence from her preceding record, Historian, I’m confident in saying that Dacus is at her best on longer tracks – an absolute master of the slow build and of gradual shifts of perspective. I’ve listened to Triple Dog Dare over 100 times now and it can still get me to mist up just as much as it did the first time. The searing guitar break near the end that signifies Home Video’s first lyrical separation from the truth of how things actually happened in real life is the album’s most triumphant and shattering moment.
I could go on to thank this album for sending me down the rabbit hole of Dacus’s other work, plus that of Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and their supergroup, boygenius, but that’s one for another time. Even in a vacuum, though, Home Video is something truly remarkable.