Album Review: Lucy Dacus – Home Video

[Matador; 2021]

Before the ubiquity of mobile cameras, making home videos was no easy task. Some may remember their parents balancing large, cumbersome cameras over their shoulders to record only the most significant of events: dance recitals, birthday parties, graduations. That home videos were physical tapes to be played for groups of people only reinforced their importance. But even more importantly, they weren’t bought but made – they were unique, they were yours.

The intrigue of Lucy Dacus on her third album Home Video doesn’t come from her attempts to recreate these experiences, but rather to expose their limitations. She’s a storyteller first and foremost, one who only needs a couple of lines to pull you into the scenes about and inspired by her youth. The thumping mid-tempo “VBS” has Dacus recall a summer at vacation bible school, with “Hands above our heads / reaching for God.” Examinations of youth inevitably come with teenage awkwardness, family relationships, and young love. “Your poetry was so bad / it took a lot to not laugh,” she admits when singing about her camp crush. The insult is only compounded by her own superior descriptions of them: “Sedentary secrets / like peach pits in your gut” starts a verse that describes their moody demeanor. She’s a lyricist that glides from vivid descriptions to powerful metaphors with ease. Dacus understands that without context or emotion, recordings – and, by extension, memories – mean nothing.

On 2018’s Historian, Dacus carved out an intimate and hermetic space that felt appropriate for her level of self-examination. On Home Video, there’s little space for silence; atmospheric effects and a crying pedal steel guitar fill the space between the piano keys and guitars on “Christine” and foreboding drums rumble underneath the twinkling strumming on “Cartwheel” like aftershocks. “But you can’t feel it for the first time a second time,” she admits on “First Time”, a climactic rock track with rapping percussion that’s the closest Dacus has come to recording a rager. Her embracing of a larger sonic palette may remind listeners of Sharon Van Etten’s 2019 standout Remind Me Tomorrow, yet Home Video is undeniably a Lucy Dacus album; one that’s a reflection of not only the rise of her star but of the ever-growing liberation that comes with emotional vulnerability.

Those in the LGBTQIA+ community (of which Dacus is a part) may know the added pain and guilt that comes from not being able to express who they are, or fearing the worst if they do, when coming of age. Indeed, Home Video deals with queerness in both overt and subtle ways. The climactic finale “Triple Dog Dare” tells the story of two queer lovers who contemplate running away after one of their parents forbids their seeing each other. “When you told me ‘bout your first time / a soccer player at the senior high / I felt my body crumple to the floor,” she admits on “Cartwheel”, heartbroken at the knowledge of a broken promise. “Even if a memory is of a time I didn’t feel safe, there’s safety in looking at it, in its stability,” Dacus said in the foreword to Home Video. She may not be able to change her youth, but she’s certainly grown and become a stronger person from it.

And for all the focus on young love and heartbreak on Home Video, Dacus also makes clear the importance of another kind of love: friendship. On the album’s hushed centerpiece “Thumbs”, Dacus accompanies her friend as she visits her estranged father; “I would kill him / if you let me,” she confesses as she sees the pain the meeting is causing her friend. Songs like these make the case that by honing in on the specifics, an artist can tap into more universal experiences. Here, Dacus embodies that ideal friend – one’s confidante and champion – and reminds listeners that, yes, there is someone out there who gives a shit about them. There’s always the possibility to make new friends and build upon new memories – cameras and home videos be damned.

Friendship literally manifests itself on acoustic guitar ballad “Going Going Gone”, where Dacus is joined by boygenius bandmates Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers (they also contribute to “Please Stay“). The end of the track continues after the song itself is over, where listeners can hear giggling and Dacus expressing her gratitude for everyone’s help. Sure, Dacus may have called in the favor, yet it was answered because she is loved. And just like that, a new memory was made.