Lucy Dacus writes songs as if her heart depends on it. On the new album Home Video, her third full-length studio effort, Dacus excavates her past. By her own reckoning, the lyrics across the album are almost entirely preoccupied with experiences she had through her adolescence. She captures the flush of feelings that come with youthful crushes, heartbreak, and friendship and family drama, examining them with the mounting wisdom accumulated when edging into adulthood without sacrificing the potency of the emotions. “Being back here makes me hot in the face/ Hot blood in my pulsing veins/ Heavy memories weighing on my brain/ Hot and heavy in the basement of your parents’ place,” Dacus sings on album opener and advance single “Hot & Heavy,” and the painfully evocative words sting like the punishment inflicted in a game of red hands. If Olivia Rodrigo covers these sensations while in the midst of them and lands on Sour, Dacus implicitly argues that a few more years doesn’t make the swirl of feelings any sweeter. If anything, we’ve moved on to acrid.
Dacus opts for bracing directness in the lyrics. “VBS” is about attending bible camp (“In the evening everybody went to worship and weep/ Hands above our heads, reaching for God/ Back in the cabin, snorting nutmeg in your bunk bed/ You were waiting for a revelation of your own”), and “Brando” takes wholly justifiable swipes at a boy who mistakenly believes condescendingly pontificating about movies is the same as a personality. [nervously coughs.] The lack of cryptic poetry doesn’t lessen the impression made by the songs, and the specificity makes them more relatable. Not everyone has experienced “You say, ‘Here’s lookin’ at you, kid’/ Thinking I wouldn’t understand the reference,” but the clarity of Dacus’s words cracks open the core emotion of the moment to a degree that makes it easy to apply to personal memories, to find the corollary and pull it up like a sense memory. On “Thumbs,” Dacus’s storytelling is at its most affecting, making the experience of serving as moral supporter during a dear friend’s reluctant visit with a estranged father (“Your nails are digging/ Into my knee/ I don’t know/ How you keep smiling”) as real as the gnarled metal at the scene of an auto accident.
The music is on Home Video is unfussy indie rock, all the better to showcase Dacus’s words, in both the precision of the lyrics and the warm richness of her singing. That doesn’t mean the music is dull, though. Dacus knows where sonic expansion will strengthen the song, as with the buzzy veneer on the instrumentation and her vocals on “Partner in Crime.” And “Triple Dog Dare” extends Dacus’s streak of excelling when she goes long, the track building magnificently as it stretches to nearly eight minutes. The expansiveness doesn’t come across as indulgent. Instead, it’s just right, the only appropriate way to contain the full scope of what needs to be shared. Like everything else on Home Video, the cut is defined by the certainty Dacus brings to it. This music is necessary.