On Lucy Dacus’s third album Home Video, she backstrokes into her upbringing in Richmond, Virginia. A devout Christian, she tackles her relationship with God and swimming through what growing up means as an adult.
Her legato voice and whispered harmonies drive the record forward. There’s a balance of ballad-like songs such as “Christine” and “Cartwheel” as well as upbeat ones like “First Time” and “Triple Dog Dare,” which includes a massive build-up. A tinge of Pixies and ‘90s-esque vibes survives in “Hot & Heavy.” And of course, Home Video maintains all the bells and whistles: fuzzy guitars, filling piano, an intentional auto-tune and hovering synths.
Dacus is an arbiter of detail. If she was directing a movie, she’d make sure to include scenes where characters are eating in silence. Each song on the album unravels like beautiful prose from an essay collection. For instance, in “VBS” she sings, “Sedentary secrets like peach pits in your gut / Locked away like jam jars in the cellar of your heart.” She recalls that her preacher was wearing a t-shirt one day, a time she crawled through her dog’s screen door, and when she ate cherries on a bridge, legs dangling above water.
Home Video feels exactly what the name suggests: a reel of flowing moments without edits. A dirty dish hanging in the sink is given a similar level of importance as skipping school to go to the movies and listen to old music for the first time.
In Claire Messud’s In Praise of the Essays That Dwell on Uncertainty she writes, “Formally, emotionally, intellectually, the most powerful essays serve, for me, the function of candles in the darkness: they light a path, but make no claim fully to clarify.” In Dacus’s music, this rings true. There’s a pinch of uncertainty because that’s how memories make their laps around our heads, wrapped up in their sweet and sour parts.
It’s a known fact that Dacus is a pretty avid reader. On her Instagram, she goes through plenty of non-fiction like Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, Melissa Febos’ Girlhood and Abandon Me, and Carmen Maria Machado’s In The Dreamhouse, among others.
When I listen to Dacus’s work, I think of Grace Paley or Joan Didion, authors who made their mark through simple prose and by living through an extended detail. It’s like playing with a crumb on an empty plate. Talented writers, in my opinion, are ones who can probe into their voices and pick endlessly to rework a memory. Sometimes, you lie in the moment, as Messud also noted. But part of how we remember is that it’ll never be perfect. As long as your words maintain clarity and accessibility for everyone to understand, it’s good.
In my senior year of college, one of my English professors gave us an assignment on the last day of class. The prompt was simple, and a little mysterious: “Why do you write?” She set a timer for twenty minutes. With all our desks facing one another, we gripped onto our pens tightly, palms sweaty, and got to work.
There are many reasons why we arrange and rearrange words. It’s limitless. We’re inspired by the last best thing we read or watched. We want to impress a crush. We want to obsess over a moment. Our therapist said it might help. In that class, I remember writing about eating Chex Mix outside the MFA in Boston with a friend one warm October night in 2017. Our phones must have been dead because we bought a lighter and used it to read under the moonlight.
Another time, I befriended an actress who practiced a scene from Richard II on me. The room was lit by a single lightbulb and smelled of burnt rice. We sat on her bed while her roommate snored on a mattress on the floor next to us. I didn’t notice him snoring until she finished her scene.
But most importantly, I wrote about my love for pinning lyrics into my composition notebooks (yes, the ones with the rock-hard covers that looked like cow print). I included a line from the song “Trust,” a quiet guitar-led ballad from Dacus’s 2016 debut album No Burden. She sings, “I’ll plant a garden in your brain / And let the roots absorb the pain.”
Nowadays, Dacus doesn’t ascribe to any particular religion, perhaps because of how a binary never made sense to her anyway, but she never forgets where she left her roots. In some ways, the motif of letting pain sit and pot itself until it’s new again stays prevalent in her latest work. Dacus doesn’t need to conclude that nourishment emerges from what those roots take in, but in its essence, the absorption welcomes acknowledgment of that growth.