On Lucy Dacus's debut, she reminded us of the power of sincerity. Her 2016 release, No Burden, was a remarkably earnest, warm, workmanlike indie rock record that didn't work too hard to be liked, but did enough to please. Reminiscent of Waxahatchee and Courtney Barnett, she was relatable without being pretentious, engaging without drawing too much attention to herself. Historian doesn't quite have the immediacy and lasting power of No Burden's best moments, but it shows Dacus hasn't lost her charm or wit.
On Historian, Dacus has also started to think more dynamically. Reminiscent of No Burden's "Map on a Wall," opener "Night Shift" runs for six-and-a-half minutes, opens with a lone, clean guitar line, and morphs into a wall of distortion and cymbals. The same thing happens on "Pillar of Truth"; Dacus starts out soft and restrained, and then her voice cracks around the six-minute mark as guitars and a brass section wail around her. Elsewhere, standout "Nonbeliever" recalls the simple beauty of No Burden with its strings-driven climax, and closer "Historians" showcases the raw vulnerability of Dacus's voice.
For Dacus, this was a record born out of frustrations and heartbreaks, and it seeks to find meaning in loss. "Pillar of Truth" is a tribute to her late grandmother, "Night Shift" is the only breakup song she has ever done, and "The Shell" was inspired by creative burnout. Not only has her songwriting become more dynamic, but she is embracing moments of contrast as well, and she uses this to great effect. It's an intricate record, one filled with peaks and valleys, high points and low. It gets a little messy at times, but it finds beauty in it all. (Matador)