By using her artistry to evoke contemplation and sincere emotion around dates that for many can be wrought with tension, anxiety, and even depression, Lucy Dacus creates a form of secular liturgy in her ‘2019’ EP.
by guest writer Matthew Gose
Stream: ‘2019’ EP – Lucy Dacus
OAfter the success of her widely praised sophomore album Historian, post-indie singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus has taken an unorthodox approach for her follow up project. Instead of bunkering down in the studio to produce another full-length album, Dacus opted to decorate the year with the slow release of standalone singles themed around various holidays, seasons, or other temporally noteworthy moments. The seven singles – three originals and four covers – have all been compiled into one volume aptly titled 2019.
The project serves several strategic purposes for Dacus, having been initiated primarily as a means of navigating through and coping with the way time emotionlessly imposes various seasons of celebration upon us regardless of our actual mental or emotional state. In an Instagram post introducing the project, Dacus said, “Holidays are tough and I often write music to try to understand them, or listen to music to buoy myself through.” This exploration becomes apparent with both the song choices – particularly the covers – as well as the production and arrangement of each track. Every song in the EP contains varying degrees of shade and light, sometimes sneering, other times smirking, and occasionally calling into question the very purpose of the holidays themselves.
The opening track, an original titled “Fool’s Gold,” finds Dacus fading from New Year’s Eve revelry to New Year’s Day dejection and sober contemplation. Another Dacus original, “My Mother & I,” is perhaps the most emotionally stirring of the record’s seven tracks. Through the song, Dacus struggles to distill her complex relationship with both her birth mother and her adoptive mother into something cohesive. The song warmly explores the intricacy of the mother-daughter relationship, touching on themes of loyalty, identity, shame, and inherited traits – both good and bad, physical and internal. The third original track on the record, Dacus’ release for the Fourth of July “Forever Half Mast,” encapsulates the more challenging intent of the record. The song invites listeners to consider their own complicity – whether actively or passively – in various injustices carried out in and by America both domestically and globally which have allowed many to enjoy a relatively challenge-free lifestyle. In her low, warm cadence, Dacus sings, “Yes, you’re evil, but you’re not that bad/ You put out your palm more than the back of your hand.” These original tracks highlight the complications inherent in the notion of celebrations that are determined by dates and seasons as well as the problematic idea of venerating particular ideologies by denoting a holiday in the first place.
Interspersed between Dacus’ brilliantly crafted original material are a smattering of covers, most of which represent a strategic diversion from her usual melodic, elegiac flavor. The covers seem to serve the project’s second main intention, to allow Dacus to playfully explore new colors in her evolving musical pallet. The album’s second number, originally released for Valentine’s Day, presents a striking rendition of Edith Piaf’s classic romantic standard “La Vie En Rose.” Dacus transforms the original track, marked by a slow, swaying tempo, into a pulsating, desperate rush of romantic fervor that in many ways punctuates Dacus’ own recent arrival at understanding and celebrating her identity as a queer woman.
Just as Dacus uses music to question the reverence of certain holidays, she also uses it to sanctify specific dates. In particular, Dacus presents a punchy, guitar driven rendition of the classic Bruce Springsteen staple “Dancing in the Dark,” to celebrate the birth of the Boss himself. Similarly, she colors the celebration of Halloween with an eerie if not incredibly divergent cover of Phil Collins’ iconic “In the Air Tonight,” complete with vocals coated in gated reverb and the landmark drum fill.
Finally, the record closes with a rowdy, girl-riot cover of the kitschiest of all Christmas tunes, the Wham classic “Last Christmas.” The track rips open with jingle bell trills and descending guitar riffs while the distorted vocals snake in with a Strokes-esque quality. The track as a whole not only walks, but skips jovially along the line between utter tackiness and self-referential excellence, in a league not unlike Julian Casablancas’ cover of SNL’s novelty gag “Christmas Treat.”
In all, the EP proves to be more than a mere thematic exercise. Certainly 2019 serves as a stop gap measure between Dacus’ last album and any forthcoming projects she has in the works. However, by using her artistry to evoke contemplation and sincere emotion around dates that for many can be wrought with tension, anxiety, and even depression, Dacus creates a form of secular liturgy. Her introspective songwriting and intentional choice of covers anchors and orients the listener as we, as a culture, drift farther and farther away from many of the traditions out of which most of our holidays were born. In this way, her music both honors practices of the past while acknowledging the cultural moment in the present and potentially establishes an outline for new traditions to be built upon.
Matt Gose loves stories, great songs, driving windows-down along the coastal highways of North County San Diego, and his incredible wife, Alexandra. In 2011, he graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University with a BA in Literature and currently works in San Diego County as a freelance writer and substitute teacher. When he’s not writing, he’s playing his guitar named sunny, reading, spending time outdoors, or otherwise on the lookout for adventure. His favorite author in Ken Kesey. His favorite song is “You Still Believe in Me,” by The Beach Boys. His favorite movie is Almost Famous (duh). And his favorite food is tacos de lengua. Catch him on Twitter @thegosewriter, Instagram @gosewriter, and on the web at www.gosewriter.com
— — — —
📸 © 2019
an EP by Lucy Dacus