Lucy Dacus’s new album, No Burden, is exactly the opposite of its namesake. For her, it is a life-changer and an obstruction. After all, imagine making an album on a lark that alters the trajectory of your life. That’s exactly what happened with Dacus.
Here’s the narrative: she originally attended film school, but became disenfranchised. As she puts it, “I couldn’t edit a misogynistic rom-com and be like, ‘Yeah, my life is fulfilling!’” On a lark, or more specifically, as a favor to a friend working on a school project, she recorded No Burden. The album has taken her on a journey from that time to her eventual deal with Matador. It’s not a surprise Matador jumped at the album, either. One quick listen to the lead single, “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore”, makes it clear why they did: it’s kind of funny, it’s kind of serious, and it’s very much quality indie rock.
As far as the music goes, rhythm guitar is the foundation here, and it ranges from Strokes-ian down strokes to slow-core. The drums are mixed prominently, giving adequate room to Dacus’ towering voice. The lead guitar is mixed oddly low, though. Many times throughout the album, when a blast of lead guitar is expected, we get it, but dang is it quiet and a little deflating. This may be a symptom of the circumstances under which the album was recorded. So, if all is right with the world, Dacus and her band will befriend their new label mates Yo La Tengo and the sophomore record will have a lush, heavy, and essentially crushing guitar tone. Well, we’ll see, anyway.
Lyrically, the album is rich. Dacus essentially takes two approaches here: first, she writes based in reality, often commenting on her and others’ messy journey through life. Take “Strange Torpedo”, for instance. In it, she tells her subject, “You got yourself a bunch of bad habits / Not hard to see that love is a weakness”. Later, on “Map on A Wall”, she sings, “Oh, please don’t make fun of me / Of my crooked smile and my crowded teeth / Or my pigeon feet / Of my knobby knees”, and the listener is absorbed into her anxiety, feeling her feelings and wanting to give her a hug. Second, she writes moody allegories laced with heady imagery. These often start out like the rest, but slowly detour into reveries. “Trust”, the only acoustic song here, begins as a description of burning your life’s work and ends with this doozy: “If beauty is the only way to make the nightmares go away / I’ll plant a garden in your brain and let the roots absorb the pain”. Later, on album closer “…Familiar Place”, she pleads, “Without you, I am surely the last of my kind”, bringing us a whole new level of hyperbole. The effect of the fantastic is initially discombobulating, but leads to a fuller, more satisfying album as a whole.
Listening to the album, I often was reminded of a record by another young songwriter, Julien Baker’s fantastic Sprained Ankle. Sonically, they have no connection—Dacus is much louder, for one thing—yet I connect the two albums because the listening experiences reminded me of reading an engulfing book. I lived inside these little worlds and wondered about these characters. Once the whole thing was over, I thought, What’s next?
So, what is next for Lucy Dacus? It’s unknown, but one thing’s for sure: this will not be the last we hear from her.