The study of history is a game of details. That’s why certain types of heady people fall for the study. It’s an endless mine of intricacies, a wide, flowing stream of facts and hypotheticals. Lucy Dacus’ has said in interviews that she considers herself a historian, so her sophomore record, Historian, is aptly titled, as she is reflecting on her life, documenting her movements, acknowledging her mistakes and analyzing what has happened to her that was outside of her control as well. It’s all wrapped in a slow simmering yet fiery package, and it’s a rousing success.
Dacus’ last record, No Burden, was great as well. It was quite a different item though. It was made as a school project, with no huge expectations involved. Some random, special destiny slammed on Earth, and the record took off, creating a bidding war for Dacus’ tunes. She chose Matador, and that finds us at her follow-up, Historian, a record much more nuanced and mature. It’s truly a statement made by an artist planning to stick around for quite a while.
Musically, Historian is not a massive change from No Burden. It’s still indie rock with solemn and sometimes soaring vocals. Historian has a tighter focus though: the simmer. Very few of these tracks smack you over the head with speed or melody. They mostly ask for your patience as they develop, slowly revealing deep, thoughtful pieces wrought with emotion.
“Pillar of Salt” is a song about losing someone. It’s also over seven minutes long and starts at a crawl. Those descriptors sound miring and dour, but if you allow yourself to live within, it overtakes you. Six minutes in Dacus yells, “If my throat can’t sing, then my soul screams out to you,” and the music drops out for a second. It was a slow journey to get there, but the reward is worth it. It is raw emotion packaged in some kind of highly involved, intricate packaging, and it brings to mind the ending of Julien Baker’s excellent album Turn Out the Lights, where after riding on tension for the whole album, we finally get a release in the form of a gut-wrenching scream.
What’s the point of a historian? The cliché says, “If you don’t know your history, you’re doomed to repeat it.” Maybe that’s what Dacus is getting at here: We must learn from our mistakes. Or maybe, she is using history as a comfort title. Once something is considered history, it is then able to be looked at objectively, placed in an emotionless box. Go ahead and pack that sad moment from a few years back into a cute little box and put a bow on top. That makes sense, as on the opening track, “Night Shift”, Dacus says, “In five years, I hope these songs feel like covers dedicated to new lovers.” So, yes she is a historian, but that means that she can move on now. That is comforting.