Lucy Dacus: Home Video - First Instincts Review
First Instincts is a series of reviews where I listen to an album for the first time ever, and note my initial thoughts as I listen. These are my unfiltered reactions upon hearing the project for the first time in full. No skips, no replays, just my first instincts.
There’s no songwriter quite like Lucy Dacus.
After her breakthrough sophomore album Historian, Dacus has returned with her third album, Home Video. Interviews leading up to release suggested it to be her most personal work yet, a notion further confirmed by lead single Thumbs. With recent releases by her boygenius bandmates leading to wider mainstream appeal, will Home Video have the same impact?
Going into this album, I’m not anticipating another Night Shift or another I Don’t Want To Be Funny Anymore – I don’t think Dacus is the sort of songwriter to lean on past triumphs, but rather to create new ones. Based on the two pre-release singles I’d heard (the devastating Thumbs and the beautifully sardonic Brando), the lyricism is going to be on another level entirely, and I can’t wait to find new favourite songs that will stand alongside her impressive back catalogue. And hey, if there’s any songwriter I can rely on for gut-punchingly striking lyrics, then it’s Dacus. Let's do this.
1. Hot & Heavy
The warm synths make for a lovely intro to the album. This was a pre-release single, but this is my first time hearing it. Dacus’ voice sounds fantastic. The guitar and drums leading into the first verse are hitting hard. “The most that I could give to you is nothing at all, the best that I could offer was to miss your calls” is an incredible couplet. Whoa, the guitar is incredible on this song. The tone of the chords that enter before the second chorus is stunning. I think there’s a piano too? Either way, this sounds so full and beautiful. The “over and over again” part is amazing. This is such nostalgic song, both in production and lyrics. “You are a fire that can’t be tamed… it’s bittersweet to see you again.” A day is going to come when I hear this song as I walk around my hometown again, and I know it’s going to hit me hard. The outro is lush. The bass and strings here feel so full and bright. A very strong intro – very different to how Night Shift opened Historian but in a good way.
The piano here sounds incredible, you can really hear the weight of the keys. The production and engineering on this album is brilliant. This is heartbreaking already. I love songs about pining and unrequited love. Dacus adores the titular Christine, and as a listener, you feel for them both. “Knowing you, they'd be the first kid to never hurt another: I see you look at him and wonder if he'll make you a mother”. The line about throwing the shoe is beautiful, and feels even better when you know it’s inspired by Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the man who threw a shoe at George Bush. A short but sweet gem of a song.
3. First Time
Whoa, the rapid drums in the intro of this are fiery. The juxtaposition of spirituality and sexauality is powerful. Why wasn’t this a single? This is incredible; an early standout. The keys throughout this whole album are absolutely stunning. The unusual 7th chords in the chorus are amazing. Something about this song is stirring up all sorts of memories in me. Nostalgia is a central theme of the album so far, and First Time succinctly captures those warm, fuzzy feelings. “Take me.” The ending felt slightly sudden, but wow, what a song.
I love the fuzzy compression on the vocals here. I think this was another single, but like Hot & Heavy, this is my first time hearing it. “Back in the cabin, snorting nutmeg in your bunk bed, you were waiting for a revelation of your own.” The bassline is really strong on this track, and the instrumental break before the chorus is great. The guitar parts on this one feel really sinister. The final verse about playing Slayer is the moment the song clicked for me – the distorted guitar, coupled with the killer blow of the lyrics, is incredible. The most relatable song so far.
A gentler start after the grunge-like previous track, this one immediately reminds me of Lucinda Williams. I’m sure I’m starting to sound like a broken record in mentioning how amazing Dacus’ lyrics are, but she really is one of the greatest lyricists of our generation. This one is gutting. The panned acoustic guitar is divine here – the production on the album feels huge and intimate all at once, especially on this track and Christine. The drums are beautiful, and remind me a little of White Cedar by the Mountain Goats. “The future isn’t worth its weight in gold, the future is a benevolent black hole” is an all-timer line. I could have listened to that song continue forever.
The lead single. It didn’t click on first listen for me but going back and actually taking in the weight of the lyrics, it immediately became a favourite. It’s just so unbelievably visceral. The first time you really hear that chorus, it sticks with you. I think the second verse has some of my favourite lyrics of the year so far:
I lovе your eyes And he has thеm Or you have his 'Cause he was first I imagine my thumbs on the irises Pressing in until they burst
There’s honestly not a lot I can say about this song that it doesn’t say for itself. I would encourage everyone to listen to it. It’s just that good, and that powerful. “I don’t know how you keep smiling.” That outro makes me well up, especially when the distortion lifts and I’m left with the gentle keys and Dacus’ voice. “You don’t owe him shit even if he said you did.” A perfect song. There's nothing else I can say.
7. Going Going Gone
I’ll come clean – I bent the rules slightly here. Before continuing to listen to Going Going Gone, I went back and listened to Thumbs a few more times. It’s just that amazing. Okay, on with the review. The acoustic guitar tone here is amazing. This is the most folksy song yet for sure. The first verse is so visceral in its specifics. The backing vocals are beautiful – I believe it features Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Mitski. The second verse is one of the most incredible descriptions of a sunset I’ve ever heard. The cycle concluding in the final verse, the innocent boy at the beginning becoming a lech, and the knock on effects this has on the children of men like him. The studio dialogue at the end made me smile. The vibes in the room must have been incredible. The whole song feels like a beautiful campfire singalong – I can’t wait to hear how it sounds live.
8. Partner In Crime
The distortion on the drums is an interesting touch here. I’d heard a rough explanation as to what this song entails before listening, and its already heartbreaking. The vocoder vocals are unexpected but work, adding to the sense of unease. The instrumental break here is phenomenal. “You drop a hint that you got a girlfriend / I tried my best not take it.” Save for thumbs, this is easily the darkest track on the album thus far. The outro sounds so messy and chaotic, a fitting coda to a harrowing song.
Aside from Thumbs, this was the only song I’d heard before going in to the album. I already know how much I love this one, but it works even better in the context of the album. Even the suggestion that the subject of the song could be the same as in Partner In Crime hurts. Many publications have written about how amazing the second verse is, and I’m going to echo them, as the line about being called cerebral is one of the best I’ve ever heard. The chorus is so instantly catchy. The synth lines after the chorus are STUNNING. “You admit you think we’re fated, I’ll be lucky if I’m your third wife.” GOD. This song is INCREDIBLE. Short and oh-so sweet. One of my favourite songs of the year.
10. Please Stay
The penultimate track, opening with some beautiful piano chords. The description of hair on the shower wall is too real. “Please don’t make me see these things.” This is heartbreaking. “You tell me you love me like it’ll be the last time.” Where has this song been all my life? “Maybe the bar the door when you move to leave… I think you mean what you say when you say you wanna die.” This is my immediate favourite song of the album. Julien and Phoebe’s harmonies return here, and they sound divine. The whole song is such a desperate, heartfelt plea, it’s so moving. The way everything cuts out at the end of the outro except for the synth line and Dacus’ voice is chilling. An incredibly important song.
11. Triple Dog Dare
The final track of the album, and the longest. I’m still reeling from Please Stay. The descending piano line here is stunning. It’s making me miss late-night cafés so badly. The way the treble line enters subtly through the verse is so nice. The piano is similarly intimate as on Christine here. “It’s what you do, but it’s not you I blame.” The palm reading description is so vivid. So many songs on the album, Triple Dog Dare included are making so many memories resurface, making me miss experiences I’d forgot I had. The drums! Yes! Dacus is a master of emotional tension in songs – just one listen to Pillar Of Truth from Historian proves that, and this song is striking similar musical notes. “I want you to hold and hurt and kiss me, I wanna run away and live on your family’s boat.” Oh, that distorted guitar! The way the instrumentation is swelling and receding is incredible. Guitar solo! The way everything cuts out to voice and piano again is stunning. This is a BANGER. Holy fucking shit! What a fucking song! Fuck! This final verse, God. “Can’t fight the feeling of relief, nothing worse could happen now.” I feel like I’ve been hit with a wrecking ball. Fucking hell. And then it’s over.
Home Video isn’t just Lucy Dacus’ best album, it’s one of the best albums of the year.
I want to say it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard – at the very least, the ending run of songs from Brando is one of the best three-song runs I’ve ever heard. The album works on every possible level – as an exploration of nostalgia and queer love, as a showcase for Dacus’ incredible lyricism, or as a marvel of composition and arrangement. This album is going to mean so much to so many people. I related hard as a queer person with a complicated relationship with Christianity; I’m sure many other listeners will feel the same way. I only wish I had this album as a young teen.
If you like music, listen to Home Video. If you like feeling things, listen to Home Video. If you want to hear one of the greatest songwriters of our generation at the top of her game, listen to Home Video.
Highlight tracks: Brando, Thumbs, Triple Dog Dare, Please Stay
Key lyric: Your mama was right, and through the grief, can't fight the feeling of relief: nothing worse can happen now.