I’ve been eager to hear a full-length Lucy Dacus album since I first heard “I Don’t Want To Be Funny Anymore” last year. This was my ANTI. This was my The Life of Pablo. My… whatever Frank Ocean’s next album ends up being called.
The craziest part — No Burden is even better than I could have hoped.
It’s easy to write about music you like. It’s hard to write about music you love. There can be so much to say that the blank page starts to feel like that commercial where the cartoon people all try to run through a tiny door at once. The best I can do right now is share — single-file, one thing at a time — reasons I’m so wild about this album.
Her voice. It’s hard not to start here, because it’s so immediately striking. And while you could throw adjectives at it all day (I’ve used “singular,” “arresting,” and “expansive” in the past), it’s not the texture. Dacus’ phrasing is just as remarkable. One example: In “Troublemaker Doppelgänger,” the way “I saw a girl who looked like you and I wanted to tell everyone to run away from her” packs in syllables while somehow sounding perfectly natural AND sneaking in a subtle rhyme… it’s really something. Even with just one word — “sometime” in “Green Eyes, Red Face” — Dacus can pace lyrics in ways that feel musical beyond melody, like the way people say that poetry is musical.
The lyrics themselves call poetry to mind, but in a different way. Here’s what I said the first time I wrote about her:
Dacus’ writing is superb, both in terms of how she puts a song together and how she puts lyrics together. I’d compare her words to my favorite poetry — the kind that’s comprised of clearly stated, boiled-down, complete sentences that would hit you just as hard if they were buried in the middle of a paragraph on related subject matter.
I’m learning from listening to No Burden in full that her words don’t just hit you “hard,” — they can devastate you. Here’s a sampling of lines that I find absolutely crushing, whether they’re sad, touching, or especially incisive.
- “I don’t believe in love at first sight, maybe I would if you looked at me right.” I first heard this at the Broadberry and went straight for my phone so I could write it down. I don’t even know what I was going to do next — text it to someone, keep it for a blog post about Dacus — I just had to capture it, knowing it might be a while before I heard it an on album.
- “Without you, I am surely the last of my kind.” This first made me think of a dinosaur that saw all its friends and family die out — probably the most cartoonish interpretation imaginable — but what it’s come to represent is much more serious. After 11 years together, Mrs. YHT and I have so many shared experiences and habits and inside jokes… we’re the only two people who can claim those things. We’re a kind. I can’t imagine being the only one bearing the weight of those shared experiences. It’s truly unfathomable. I need to stop typing about this.
- “Too old to play, too young to mess around.” Did you know that “I Saw Her Standing There” originally started with “She was just 17/Never been a beauty queen”? It was later edited to employ the edgier “You know what I mean.” This line in “Troublemaker Doppelgänger” gets to that same idea from a different — but just as cutting — angle.
- “Is there room in the band? I don’t need to be the frontman.” The yearning for identity, the desperation, the self-effacement… it’s like she hacked my middle school brain. It hurts to hear in a really good way. The irony of course is that Dacus absolutely does need to be a frontman. To paraphrase Vanilla Ice, anything less would be a felony.
The last thing I’d point out before the enthusiasm door gets jammed is the way songs build and manage momentum. A few songs have big builds — “Troublemaker Doppelgänger,” “Dream State…” and “Map On A Wall” to name three — and as fun and goosebumpy as those crescendos are, what happens after is really interesting. (It’s convenient that the advance stream was posted via Soundcloud, because you can actually see the dynamics in action.) “Troublemaker” gives you a few blank bars at the very top, holding you there in suspense, “Map On A Wall” deploys a third act, and “Dream State…” has a whole other companion song, “… Familiar Place,” which brings No Burden to a close.
Maybe this is my fondness for meta-connections acting up, but I’d like to think this control — this mindful management of chaos — is an indication of what the future holds for Lucy Dacus. There’s been so much excitement ahead of No Burden, from Rolling Stone to NPR, and I like the idea that this is just the first act. That we’re only starting to see what Dacus and her band are capable of. Regardless, I’m excited to watch the crescendo grow in the weeks and months ahead.