Good Grief contains rewarding singles, but falters as a complete work.
In early 2016, Lucius, after a couple years of touring and watching their 2013 debut Wildewoman slowly seep into the greater music consciousness, got the definitive stamp of crossover approval, finding their music soundtracking a commercial. Backing a Samsung Galaxy ad, the stomp-inducing jaunt of “Turn It Around” would appear numerous times across television screens nationally, presumably eliciting searches to the tune of “What’s that song in the Galaxy commercial?” As tech commercials have been gatekeepers for indie bands waiting to be discovered by a wider audience, those who looked up the album on which “Turn It Around” appeared would not have been disappointed. But now, nearly two-and-a-half-years after the bright debut, a whole host of emotions seem to be weighing down the follow-up, Good Grief.
The formidable duo of lead singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig are once again the stars of the album, but unlike their previous effort, a dissonance emerges between their vocal performances and the backing instrumentation. The retro production of “Something About You” enters with neo-psychedelic synths and gives way to lyrically suggest a great build-up before the hook enters. Instead, when the hook comes, all that follows a moment of silence is a bass groove and on-tempo drums; not the sonic representation of the emotions attached to intangibles about that special someone. By opting for understated production, the awesome singing often feels like it’s lacking a worthy complement.
Sometimes, however, this intent works extremely well. On the slow-moving ballad “My Heart Got Caught on Your Sleeve", a sparse piano captures the desperation of “I am lost in my own home” perfectly. The violin that enters after the first chorus is used better than any in pop music since Natalie Prass’ stunning “Bird of Prey” last year. Though the songs differ in production complexity, the vocals of each are equally impactful. It’s great company to keep.
The album’s centerpiece, both literally and figuratively (never underestimate quality track sequencing), “Gone Insane,” was given a take worthy of the lyrical intent. As Wolfe and Laessig described to Paste, the recording followed a rare fight between the two and the result naturally spilled over into the power of the song. “All alone in this togetherness” precedes the titular hook, and it’s one of the best descriptors of being willfully stuck with a loved one during a quarrel.
Despite the heights of the aforementioned songs, however, Good Grief as a cohesive unit does not live up to the potential showcased on Wildewoman. The back half of the album aims for but never reaches the fun of “Turn It Around", and the production is often too straightforward to properly work with the complexity of the immaculate vocal work. Single “Born Again Teen", for instance, exemplifies this. The lyrics suggest a kaleidoscope of feeling, but the song never reaches this promise. “Midnight City”-esque synth work would’ve worked wonders with the quick cadence of the chorus, but an appearance of a techno drum line is as close as this comes.
Lucius certainly earned the attention provided by appearing in a commercial, and instead of attempting to fully repeat Wildewoman, they delved into an array of song topics. This didn’t amount to a complete unit on Good Grief, and the noteworthy songs clearly outshone the majority of the album. There are undoubtedly gems to be found, but the rewards are clustered on the first half.