Even though they’re all alpha musicians in their own right, it’s often hard not to think of Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers — close friends and members of the semi-supergroup side-project Boygenius — as a single, multi-faceted entity. Boygenius has only released an EP and done one tour, but the three join their beautifully matched harmonies on a song or two on each members’ solo albums, and most of all, their artistic sensibilities come from similar places, with lyrics that share a personal, memoir/novelistic quality, despite their differing sounds and backgrounds.
Which is a longwinded and slightly unfair way to lead into “Home Video,” the powerful third album from the deepest-voiced member of that trio, Dacus (and third in the triumvirate of Bridgers’ Grammy-nominated “Punisher” and Baker’s “Little Oblivions”), which finds her both revisiting her youth and stepping into a whole new realm as a songwriter and artist.
Despite Dacus’ singer-songwriter template, this is very much a band album, and her collaborators mirror and anticipate the ebbs and flows of the songs’ moods — most amusingly on “VBS” (which stands for Vacation Bible School, reflecting Dacus’ religious upbringing). During the lyric, “While you’re going to sleep your mind keeps you awake… playing Slayer at full volume helps to drown it out,” the music briefly drops out, but at the word “Slayer,” pulverizing power chords come crashing in, drowning out the rest of the line. Throughout the album, the production and accompaniment — and the mix, by Grammy-winning engineer Shawn Everett of Alabama Shakes fame — are filled with intricately layered keyboards and guitars; Baker and Bridgers sing harmony on two songs.
But what really sets Dacus apart are her lyrics, and “Home Video” is like a Southern short story collection about adolescence. The bio, written by novelist Catherine Lacey, says, it “was built on an interrogation of [Dacus’] coming-of-age years in Richmond, Virginia.”
Each song is filled with vividly observed memories and vignettes: “Curse words and empty cups, cracked blacktop curling up/ Heat wave by midday, heat lightning on a summer night” (“Cartwheel”); “Eating cherries on the bridge, feet dangling, throwing the pits and stems into the racing current below” (“Partner in Crime”). “Going Going Gone” is a memory of the awkward early years of dating: “After dinner, before dark, we’d meet at the same bench in the park/ Sweaty palms, averted eyes, wasn’t sure if he and I were going out.”
But several of the songs are topical, and often unsettlingly so. “Thumbs” is about accompanying a lover to meet their estranged, evidently trauma-inducing father (“I love your eyes and he has ‘em/ Or you have his, ‘cause he was first/ I imagine my thumbs on the irises pressing in until they burst.” And the closing track, “Triple Dog Dare,” is about two friends who run away from home, apparently permanently (“They put our faces on the milk jugs/ Missing children til they gave up”).
Like many short story collections, it ends the album on an inconclusive and ambiguously disturbing note (a repeated line, “Nothing worse can happen now”), leaving you wanting to know the ending but not really minding that you don’t, and flipping back to the beginning — not just for clues, but because you want more.
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