Lucy Dacus did what many of us did during lockdown: looked to the past for comfort. For her third studio album, Dacus explored the notebooks and journals she had meticulously kept during her childhood; the end result being her sweetest and most diaristic album to date. It’s an irony free record in an irony poisoned world: filled with unconditional empathy for those who deserve it and bitter anger towards those who don’t.
There are many words that could be used to describe ‘Home Video’ but perhaps the most accurate is nostalgic. Despite living through what are advertised as the best times of their life, Gen Z have shown – even before the pandemic – a penchant for nostalgia; nostalgia for a time before they were even born, or at least before they were old enough to remember. It’s a trend undoubtedly linked to the record high levels of depression among teens and 20-somethings; who are desperately looking for some escape from reality.
‘Home Video’, as its title suggests, offers a meticulous look back on Dacus’s adolescent years at home with her family. It traces that uncomfortable journey from childhood to puberty to early adulthood. If Olivia Rodrigo’s coming of age debut ‘Sour’ was a tale of first romances, head over heels love and the searing all consuming heartbreak that follows, ‘Home Video’ explores the space in between; the oft less talked about but equally important aspects of this time in life: among them, friendship, religious questioning and depression (even suicidal ideation).
‘Home Video’ draws contrasts between the innocence of childhood and the reality of growing up with heart-breaking clarity. On ‘Christine’, Dacus recalls a friend’s childhood fantasy of raising a baby “by the lake”, but the following tracks demonstrate how far from that picturesque ideal life really is. Elsewhere on ‘Christine’, Dacus threatens to throw a shoe at the alter if the aforementioned Christine marries her volatile boyfriend, while on ‘Please Stay’, she’s reduced to begging in an attempt to stop a friend killing themselves and, on ‘Triple Dog Dare’, she addresses a quivering friend paralysed by the fear of death.
This is what makes ‘Home Video’ so simultaneously tragic and beautiful. Nostalgia after all is nearly always tinged with bitter-sweetness. The eponymous Christine yearns for a perfect life by the lake, but Dacus reminds us that nothing is as pure and desirable at is seems. The house by the lake is only desirable because it’s so detached from the protagonist’s reality; allowing it to be endlessly projected onto.
‘Home Video’ is filled with these disguised dark truths; on ‘Thumbs’, she threatens in stark detail to kill a friend’s deadbeat dad, while ‘Partner In Crime’ depicts a narrator left hiding their truest self to appease an older lover. ‘VBS’ (short for vacation Bible school) is perhaps the album’s darkest track; though you wouldn’t know that from it’s peppy sound. It begins as a straightforward recount of her childhood experience at VBS, seemingly told through a glowing nostalgic lens, before Dacus hones in on the reality of the experience with sharper focus (perhaps realising that any positive memories she has of the experience aren’t actually reflected in her diaries and journals from the time). Dacus’s friend at VBS has made it out of a dysfunctional household where their parents are harming themselves and each other (“Your dad keeps his sleeves down through the summer for a reason / Your mother wears her makeup extra thick for a reason”).
Dacus is hopelessly infatuated with this person (whether in a platonic or romantic sense is unclear), but her efforts to pull them out of their black hole are at best, ineffective and at worst, actively counter-productive. She tried to show them “the light”, but despite her best efforts, she concludes “all I did, in the end / was make the dark feel darker than before”.
If the above lyric wasn’t proof enough of this, ‘VBS’ showcases once again the quiet, imagery-provoking brilliance of Dacus’s lyricism; towards the end of the elongated first verse she sings: “Sedentary secrets like peach pits in your gut / Locked away like jam jars in the cellar of your heart / Waiting to be tasted and ultimately wasted”.
If all of this makes ‘VBS’ sound unbearably melancholic, it’s not. ‘VBS’s darkest moments are contrasted with moments of levity like when she sings of a friend whose “poetry was so bad / It took a lot to not laugh”. ‘Home Video’ pulls this trick again and again; it recalls the sweetness of youth, while reminding you that the past probably wasn’t as rosy as you recall.
While her Boygenius band mates Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers expanded their sound into something louder and more visceral on their latest studio LPs, Dacus seems more than comfortable to stay in her lane; the end result being an album that feels comfortingly familiar even if also stagnant at times. It’s this though that makes ‘Home Video’, perhaps, the perfect companion for the current day. While we were told to utilise quarantine to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, in reality most of us fell back on familiar comforts; clinging to the past and making it through, somehow, with gritted teeth.
Best Tracks: ‘Hot & Heavy’, ‘Cartwheel’, ‘Going Going Gone’, ‘VBS’, ‘First Time’, ‘Brando’, ‘Please Stay’, ‘Triple Dog Dare’
Worst Track: ‘Christine’