After releasing a debut album that led to a contract with and reissue by Matador Records, singer/songwriter Lucy Dacus follows up two years later with Historian. The response to 2016's No Burden took note of the songwriter's velvety voice and thoughtful lyrics as well as the album's mix of catchy indie rock and quieter introspection. For Historian, Dacus returned to the studio with the same production team (Dacus, Collin Pastore, Jacob Blizard), but here, they flesh out the arrangements, contrasting spare reflection with soaring dynamics, often within the same song. The album's epic first track, "Night Shift," is a prime example, opening with a quiet recollection of events over strummed guitar as the singer addresses an ex. It builds slowly, gaining drums and eventually grungy, churning guitars as Dacus moves into her upper range. That conversational midrange is her bread and butter, though, as most of the album seems to acknowledge. Tracks like "Addictions" and "Body to Flame" expand the palette even further with horns and strings. The latter song begins as restrained chamber pop with harpsichord-like guitar and a string quartet before it kicks into rock & roll gear, dramatically, halfway through. Later, the seven-plus-minute "Pillar of Truth," a hymnlike song that appears to play off of "Amazing Grace" with lyrics like "I once had sight/But now I'm blind," likewise rises and falls sharply in volume. Ultimately, the forte passages don't encroach on the songwriting, as they underline emotion, but they do, at times, step on Dacus' voice, when she's clouded by high-volume accompaniment or even vocal processing. Thankfully, those moments are brief and rare, allowing her lyrics and expressive sense of melody to shine.
by Marcy Donelson