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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

Pazz & Jop Comments: My My, Hey Hey, Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay

Auckland’s Beths might be the 4,000th indie rock band from ever-fecund New Zealand — let alone the entire globe. But others don’t have Elizabeth Stokes. Not to slight her bandmates on Future Me Hates Me; they’re bubbly-effervescent and post-punky-barbed excited-sounding, too. But to confront “You Wouldn’t Like Me,” “Not Running,” or the title track is to be like a trained guard dog that rolls over and seeks belly rubs instead of barking. Stokes is ridiculously infectious and disarming, making this least-ephemeral kind of guitar pop ear candy. Future us will still love her.— Jack Rabid

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It seems reports of rock and roll’s death have been greatly exaggerated. On Young & Dangerous, the Struts’ Butch Walker–produced sophomore banger, Luke Spiller (the band’s spectacularly Zandra Rhodes–caped frontman, who could have easily played the lead in Bohemian Rhapsody if Rami Malek hadn’t been available) and his fellow British glam-rockers vamp and amp their way through the disco-rock euphoria of “Who Am I?” (think the Stones’ “Miss You” or Rod the Mod’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”), the Crowes-y cowbell jam “Primadonna Like Me,” the hard-charging football terrace chant “Bulletproof Baby,” and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show themes “Body Talks” and “In Love With a Camera” with unbridled Jagger swagger. Dave Grohl, authority on all things rawk, declared the Struts the best opening act to ever tour with the Foo Fighters, but expect them to be headlining stadiums on their own in 2019.
— Lyndsey Parker

https://youtu.be/dNxCz-Iyu0g

Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper, “Shallow”: OK, the two best films of the year were First Reformed and Shoplifters, but the most thrilling moment on the screen was unquestionably when Gaga summons her inner rock goddess with “huuuh, uhhh, ahhhh ah wah haaa ahhhhhhhhh.” I mean, the film could have fallen off the cliff from there and I would have been happy.
— Ken Capobianco

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Paul McCartney, Egypt StationHis best since Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, and a nice bit of political commentary on “Despite Repeated Warnings.”
— Gillian Gaar

Mighty Mighty BosstonesFollowing a seven-year recording absence, the veteran Boston ska-rock group came back strong with the socially conscious While We’re At It, where the still-gravelly-voiced Dicky Barrett penned lyrics with vivid imagery.
— George A. Paul

Andrew W.K., “Music Is Worth Living For” 
It is.
— 
Ian Mathers

Apparently Love Is Dead is Chvrches “selling out,” even though they were already a pretty poppy band to begin with. This is music designed to boom in the big venues Chvrches have rightly earned, and it, as they say, slaps.
— Brice Ezell

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Though Will Toledo technically debuted Car Seat Headrest’s “Bodys” sometime in the late 2000s on Bandcamp, it got its chance to shine this year on the reworked Twin Fantasy. Tumbling synths, pristine drum machine loops, and an impending sense of complicated youthful bliss make this song one of my favorites of 2018. Toledo connects the fragility of young love to the delicacy of the human body, the vessels that allow us to experience life fully.
— Ellen Johnson

Amen Dunes, “Miki Dora”: I don’t listen to music to learn stuff — not stuff that can be put into words, anyway. But reading up on this song’s eponymous subject was fascinating: a guy from the Fifties who helped popularize surfing (he’s in every one of those Frankie Avalon–Annette Funicello movies) but who supposedly hated the commercialization of what he’d helped usher in, and who conveyed his disgust by acting out in various ways — swastikas, crucifixion imagery, crime, exile. I’m old enough to remember when there’d be an occasional surfing segment on Wide World of Sports; also, Laura Blears Ching in Playboy…I digress. I came across this one interesting quote from the president of the Hang-Ten Chapter of Malibu Surfers just after Dora’s swastika incident: “You had a surfer on one side that was bad, and you had a group of surfers on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say it, but I will say it right now.” I like the sound of “Miki Dora” fine — it starts off like a dreamy, singer-songwriter version of “Come as You Are” — but it’s primarily the story that draws me in.
— Phil Dellio

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Making her own mythologies, reassembling our monuments. Neko Case is forever.
Ann Powers

Greta Van Fleet emerged from the wide-scale savaging of social media haters loud and proud.
— Bud Scoppa

Is Parquet Courts’ “Total Football” about Colin Kaepernick? I refuse to look it up and spoil the meaning of this song for myself. Anyone who says football isn’t political is an idiot. It’s very political because it’s very capitalistic, and Parquet Courts actually understand that.… Wide Awaaaaaake! is a very relevant political evolution for PQ, with signature catchy tunes about everything from feeding cats to global warming to why Tom Brady sucks.
— Troy Farah

Parquet Courts, Wide Awaaaaaake! Even Patriots fans dig the “fuck Tom Brady” coda of “Total Football.”
— Michael Fournier

On Wide Awaaaaaake!, Parquet Courts, the last (?) of the great downtown New York art-guitar bands, get woke, attacking everything from violence and global warming deniers to Patriot QB Tom Brady in the most remarkable cultural shift since the Beasties’.
— Roy Trakin

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Pazz & Jop: The Top 100 Albums of 2018

For the 45th (or 46th) time since 1971, America’s critical establishment has spoken, with Kacey Musgraves’s Golden Hour narrowly beating out Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer for the number one spotAll told, this year’s Pazz & Jop Music Critics Poll featured nearly 400 voters and over 1,200 albums, with all five top spots taken by female artists for the first time ever. Check out the year’s top 50 singles HERE.

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A Texas Toast to Our Favorite Artists From SXSW

Each March, hundreds of thousands of visitors descend on Austin, Texas, to keep things weird, to gorge themselves on brisket and queso, and for South by Southwest, which kickstarts the 2018 festival season. Now in its 32nd year, SXSW is where young acts aim to please big industry players, and underground favorites hope to grow their following, playing bars, restaurants, rock clubs, honky-tonks, churches, and all the spaces in between. For festivalgoers, the city is transformed into the ultimate playground, with live music spouting from the dark and damp interior of the Barracuda to the raucous Mohawk and everywhere in between. This year’s festival took place from March 12 to 18, and while it’s nearly impossible to pick the absolute best artists from SXSW, we’ve narrowed down some of our favorites.

Liza Anne at SXSW 2018 in Austin, Texas.

Liza Anne
On 
Fine but Dying, Liza Anne’s latest album, out via Arts & Crafts, the Georgia-based singer pairs infectious pop guitars with fiery lyrics tackling heavy topics, like her own struggles with mental health. That darker side came through in her live performance, where the singer’s bubblegum facade — she was outfitted in a pale-pink jumpsuit and raspberry beret — belied an unapologetic fierceness, as when she launched into “I Love You, But I Need Another Year.” “I hope you like this song,” she told the crowd, “but if you don’t, I don’t care, because I fucking love it.”
Liza Anne plays the Mercury Lounge on May 9

Lucy Dacus performs live at Stubb’s during the SXSW Music Festival on March 14

Lucy Dacus
With her new album, Historian, piling up rave reviews, Lucy Dacus is having a very good 2018. Still, even the singer-songwriter’s happiest tracks can trigger feelings of heartbreak. Or, in some cases, hunger: Nick Offerman called the Virginia native’s sophomore album “delicious.” “This young lady has a voice that I would liken to smoking a bong that’s been filled with a tincture of laudanum — that’s opium syrup — while laying in one of those meat jelly molds, and having gravy just slowly dripped on your face,” he said, while introducing Dacus at the benefit night Audible Impact on March 13. Leave it to Ron Swanson to compare a singer to a meat bath, and mean it as a compliment.

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Gus Dapperton

Gus Dapperton
At the Sidewinder on March 14, the twenty-year-old New York native dazzled both musically and sartorially, pairing shimmering purple velvet pants with a neon-pink sweatshirt, all topped off with his signature bowl cut. This, after all, is a singer just as at home in the pages of Vogue as of Billboard. Leading a band of similarly offbeat young hipsters, including his little sister, Dapperton attracted a crowd of cool kids for a set of sunny indie pop bangers off his latest EP, You Think You’re a Comic!, and last year’s Yellow and Such.

(L-R) Mati Gilad, Gil Landau, Yael Shoshana Cohen, Dekel Dvir, and Rami Osservaser of Lola Marsh at SXSW on March 17

Lola Marsh
Despite some technical difficulties early on, the Israeli indie pop group sailed into its SXSW performance at Blackheart on March 13 with swagger. Climbing onto the amplifiers and raising her voice to the rafters, lead singer Yael Shoshana Cohen laced the band’s manic folk-rock energy with tragic romance, as if Lana Del Rey was fronting the Magnetic Zeros.

Ought at SXSW

Ought
With a sound that pulls from both Nineties emo and college-rock staples like the Feelies and Talking Heads, this Montreal-based quartet brought its DIY vibes to Austin with post-punk fury at Barracuda Backyard on March 14. After a three-year hiatus, and last year’s solo release from singer-guitarist Tim Darcy, the band bounced back this year with a new label and a new record, Room Inside the World, out now.
Ought play the Music Hall of Williamsburg on April 6

Pale Waves

Pale Waves
One of the buzziest bands of the week, 
this Manchester, England–based gothpop outfit drew fans lining up around the block to get into its performance at the British Music Embassy showcase on March 13. Drummer Ciara Doran and vocalist Heather Baron-Gracie began writing songs after meeting at a liquor store, later filling out their ranks with the addition of bassist Charlie Wood and guitarist Hugo Silvani. The quartet is inspired by Eighties synthpop acts like the Cure and Cocteau Twins, but darkens its sound with heavy guitars and gothic dream-girl vocals.
Pale Waves play Bowery Ballroom on April 13

Shamir at SXSW

Shamir
Southern Cali’s lo-fi indie darling isn’t new to the SXSW circuit, but he brought a variety of sounds to the Pitchfork stage on March 16, from reflective folk-like tunes to dance floor anthems inspired by Nineties house. Shamir Bailey’s irresistible charisma was on display when he introduced “Straight Boy,” off the album Revelations. “Are there any straight boys in the audience?” he asked, laughing, before singing the first verse: “Can someone tell me why/I always seem to let these/Straight boys ruin my life?/I guess I’m just too nice.”

Soccer Mommy

Soccer Mommy
At twenty years old, Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison is possessed of a world-weary wisdom far beyond her years, with her debut studio album, Clean, serving as exhibit A. In front of a packed crowd at Cheer Up Charlies on March 16, the native of Nashville, Tennessee, sang “emopop bangers” about boys, anxiety, and envy-inducing cool girls, before letting rip on “Your Dog,” an outspoken track about confronting an emotionally abusive relationship: “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog/That you drag around/A collar on my neck tied to a pole/Leave me in the freezing cold.”
Soccer Mommy play Elsewhere on May 2, Rough Trade NYC on May 4, and National Sawdust on June 7 with Liz Phair

B, Ruby, Soul and Orono Noguchi of Superorganism perform during SXSWon March 17

Superorganism
Clad in Day-Glo-colored raincoats, the eight members of this East London–based electropop group mounted the stage at Latitude 30 on March 17, ringing handbells as they took position around diminutive lead vocalist Orono Noguchi. With members hailing from different parts of the world, the band is a testament to the benefits of globalism, with a sound and aesthetic sufficiently playful enough to distract fans from the current political climate.
Superorganism play Music Hall of Williamsburg on April 5

Nathan Williams of Wavves performs during SXSW on March 15

Wavves
The San Diego–based garage rockers, named after lead singer Nathan Williams’s fear of the ocean, have been around for a decade, but showed no signs of slowing down at one of SXSW’s most epic performances on March 16: True to form, the ever-rebellious Williams closed out his band’s set at the Mohawk’s “All Are Welcome” party with a two-story stage dive. 

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Celebrating a Year of Women in Music

“Stop talking about women’s involvement and creation of rock music as if it is brand new phenomena, or their appearance on Billboard rock charts as a new incursion and not one happening regularly in the 40ish years of Rock Chart history,” Jess Hopper, music critic and author of The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, tweeted just two weeks ago in response to a Billboard article implying that women are just entering the scene.

As anyone with ears, a decent record collection, or a passing familiarity with Sister Rosetta Tharpe already knows, that’s a pretty silly notion, as old-fashioned and blinkered as the equally predictable cycle of “Rock Is Dead” headlines that surface every few years. While male-fronted rock has indeed undergone a bit of an identity crisis in the last few decades, women have continued to turn out brilliant, emotional, entertaining-as-hell rock — and pop and hip-hop and rap and jazz and folk and country and on and on. This isn’t a new phenomenon. It isn’t a trend. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth celebrating.

Looking back over some of the female musicians that the Village Voice has profiled over the last twelve months offers a pretty good snapshot of the current state of women in music. Among them are the indomitable Princess Nokia, the effervescent Maggie Rogers, the fragile Julien Baker, and the insanely brilliant SZA. They are all talented, wildly creative artists who’ve produced music we put on repeat and songs we can’t forget. Oh, and they happen to be women.

Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko

For Vagabon, Indie Rock Is About Creating a Voice and a Community

“Women of color exist in this scene. Just not many.”

Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff

Hurray for the Riff Raff‘s New York Story

“The more I learned about Puerto Rican history, the more I was like, ‘Oh, I make total sense.’”

Princess Nokia

Princess Nokia Is Ready to Reign

“At the end of the day, I’m still a ‘hood bitch, no matter how punk I am.”

Maggie Rogers

Maggie Rogers: The Making of a 21st-Century Pop Heroine

“My entire life I have felt this incredible sense of predestination.”

Amber Coffman

Amber Coffman’s “City of No Reply” Is More Than a Dirty Projectors Breakup Album

“Since I had a good decade of working with other people, I had a long time to marinate on what I wanted to do.”

SZA

SZA Sizzles on Her Triumphant Debut, CTRL

“I just started getting into optimism yesterday. Anything is possible. I’m optimistic as fuck.”

Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield

Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield: “I Can’t Believe People Are Going to Hear This”

Indie rock’s sharpest self-scrutinizer has made her most personal album yet.

Japanese Breakfast

On New Album, Japanese Breakfast Is Floating in Space

“I don’t want any moment to go by where I’m not creating something, sharing something, or interacting with people.”

EMA, also known as Erika M. Anderson

How the New Weird Suburbs Inspired EMA‘s Noise Folk

“I like the idea of multiple realities layered on top of each other.”

Downtown Boys

For Downtown Boys, the Political Is Personal

“When people need to hear something about someone being brown and smart, they can find us.”

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and the Secret Life of Synths

“Whatever I’m frightened of or I’m bad at, I love stepping closer to that to see what’s there.”

Julien Baker

How Julien Baker Learned to Embrace the Ugliness of Existence

“I am me, and that is inescapable, so maybe I should stop trying to escape that and learn to embrace it.”

Tegan and Sara

How The Con Raised Tegan and Sara to Indie Pop Royalty

“I still identify strongly with the helplessness and grief I was suffering with at that time in my life.”

Angel Olsen

Angel Olsen Isn’t Trying to Make You Cry. Really

“I just want to write something that’s honest and that people can really feel.”

L’Rain

L’Rain Weaves an Aural Tapestry Out of New York’s Chorus of Sound

“When I’m around people and I get nervous or excited, I like to record our conversations.”

Melanie Charles

How Jazz Outlaw Melanie Charles Found Voodoo in Brooklyn

“It’s answers to questions that I didn’t even realize I had before I started going to these ceremonies.”

Lucy Dacus

On HistorianLucy Dacus Has Something to Say

“At the core, my message has pretty much been the same since I was, like, thirteen.”

Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison

As Soccer Mommy, Sophie Allison Sings Herself Clean
“It’s strong to admit, ‘Yes, I have issues. I’ve suffered too.’”

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As Soccer Mommy, Sophie Allison Sings Herself Clean

Gray and ceaseless rain has made it a terrible time to be in midtown Manhattan during a Thursday rush hour, but a perfect day to be with Sophie Allison, known as Soccer Mommy, who makes melancholy music that sounds just right in bummer weather like this. “I call my songs ‘emopop bangers,’ ” she says over pizza and a slice on Eighth Avenue, about twenty blocks above and a few avenues over from where, until last year, she lived in a Union Square dorm as an NYU student. The Parkland shooting debate was raging on TVs around us, with high schoolers not much younger than her fighting for their lives on gun control, a reminder of how powerful and powerless you are when you are young: fueled by passion but not always permitted to use it to change things. “Everyone is depressed. Not everyone can relate to getting fucked-up, not everyone wants to drink, but everyone feels these things, so everyone can connect,” she says. “Kids are just sad.”

Rainy days and national strife aside, with her “emopop bangers,” Allison expresses just how frustrating and exciting it is to be an adolescent, no matter where and when you are one. The twenty-year-old musician (not a kid, not yet a middle-aged adult) with chipped purple-black nail polish is back in town from Nashville, Tennessee, where she has lived with her parents in her childhood bedroom since dropping out of college last year, and being here stokes memories of isolation, the grist of the Soccer Mommy music that she wrote right here in her dorm, just her and her guitar. “I hated New York the first year. It’s so lonely and so overwhelming that you get depressed,” she says. “I didn’t go out a lot. I never went to parties. I spent a lot of time indoors in my room. But I was working on music all the time.”

There’s something noble about songs on Soccer Mommy’s new album, Clean, in which she explicates what so many of us do but would be embarrassed to admit to: comparing oneself unfavorably to a partner’s past romances. “It’s strong to admit, ‘Yes, I have issues. I’ve suffered too,’ ” she says. “Not to be strong by lying, but to be strong in admitting it.” She has been dating the guitarist in her band for about a year and a half, and when she stands onstage with him, she’s often singing about their life together, the twists and turns her mind has gone through, particularly when they were first dating. “I feel like the reason I can do that is because there is a broader audience,” she says. “If I had ten people listening to my music, my boyfriend would be like, ‘Uhh, what’s up?’ It’s less personal when there are thousands of people.”

The idea of thousands of people (or at least 500, about the crowd size she’s been playing to on tour as the opening act for Phoebe Bridgers) staring back at her while she plays is new: Soccer Mommy was born in 2015 as a bedroom pop project with releases online, but it took her until the summer of 2016 to play live shows. “I was in school, and I wasn’t trying to do a tour,” she says. Allison had been used to making music privately and personally, coming up with melodies and lyrics since she can remember, starting when she picked up a toy guitar at age five and wrote a silly song called “What the Heck Is a Cowgirl?” She was so young that her hands weren’t big enough yet to always make the sounds she wanted to. “It was hard to stretch to a C chord,” she says.

She began to take lessons, graduating onto a baby acoustic, and even started a band called Chemical X with a neighbor in fourth grade. “I started getting good at twelve,” she says. “I just always liked it — I didn’t want to play piano. I wanted to be a rocker.” She was an Avril Lavigne–obsessed tomboy who grew up in Belmont/Hillsboro, a college neighborhood (her dad ran a lab at a Vanderbilt University) in Nashville, and would go to Southern Girls Rock Camp — an incredibly fruitful resource dedicated to nurturing young women — every summer. “Every year I would get my hair done up in a mohawk — full-on teased and sprayed up,” she says. “I knew that I would play music my whole life.”

When high school ended in 2015, nerves led Allison to the safe path of college — hoping for a degree in music business — instead of creative pursuits. “I always had it instilled in me that I would go to college, and I have terrible anxiety, so if I didn’t, I would have been like, ‘Am I going to die of poverty?’ ‘I’m going to die’ is what would happen in my mind,” she says. But right before she left for New York, she also uploaded the first Soccer Mommy songs to Bandcamp. “It felt good,” she says. From the beginning, she displayed an adept hand for quiet rage (she calls it “apathetic anger”) and lyrics that use metaphor and symbolism to address her own problems in a way that others can relate to, like on Clean’s “Your Dog,” in which she admonishes herself for being a puppy always at the beck and call of a past boyfriend (a guy from high school), while also detailing her efforts to overcome this predilection for subservience in her newer relationship. “Metaphor makes it stronger: I don’t want to be an animal that you drag around, like a pet,” she says. “In a relationship, I want to pamper someone and I don’t focus on myself. Just being a dog: lovey and there when you want it, but when you wanna go out with your friends, the dog sits home all night.”

She developed an audience online over her freshman and sophomore year, big enough toward the end that she felt confident in her decision to drop out of school, though success and visibility have presented their own problems. “It’s horrible for anxiety — my anxiety for body issues is at an all-time high. I ask fans, ‘Please don’t make comments about how I look.’ It’s always a compliment, but it makes me aware that I’m being watched all the time. I’ll see a picture of myself that a fan posted and I’m just like, I look terrible,” she says. “I deal with it. I’ll keep doing it until I die. It’s a constant struggle, trying to be OK with not being perfect, between wanting to keep this confidence that I somewhat built up while also going through this period where I’m being judged constantly.” Her songs, as introspective as they are, have also caused her to discover some unpleasant realities. “The album is about the period I went through finding myself, and it’s terrifying that I did because I found a monster. I found a crazy person trapped inside my body,” she says, laughing. “No one is going to fix you as a person. I’ve had so many therapists, and none of them worked — they can’t crack me. Because I’m so fake to them. I go in and I don’t tell them.”

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Still, it’s radical to see a young woman stand onstage and sing her sadness, which Allison knows because of how inspired she herself has been by other women’s strength in vulnerability. “I love the scene in movies where the woman goes insane. I feel like I’m going fucking crazy and it feels so liberating to see a woman be fucking crazy,” she says. “Like Britney Spears shaving her head. That’s such a great moment, because she was this beauty icon and she was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to shave my head off and you’re all going to call me crazy but then you can’t control my body anymore.” Though as a kid she loved TRL-friendly contemporaries like Britney and Avril (and Taylor and Paramore!), she later evolved to bands from before her time, like Nineties-ascendent Pavement, Sonic Youth, and Neutral Milk Hotel, who were important to her when she was going through much of what she writes about on Clean and, in their subtle skill at channeling angst and ennui, are nostalgic touchstones for her music now. “Even though I discovered it on my own time, even though I didn’t see it get released, it reminds me of high school,” she says.

She also feels a sense of camaraderie — or at least a sense of place—in an indie moment that has increasingly come to be led by not just straight white men, but acts like Mitski and Vagabon and Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, as well as Phoebe Bridgers, the woman Allison is currently opening for. “I’ve never met an indie female artist or female-identifying artist or nonconforming artist that has been rude to me. At all. Ever. Just supportive, or at least just nice,” she says. “People are connecting with us now because it’s more emotional. It’s more honest and it’s more crushing, especially if we are being honest about that feeling of wanting to be perfect but not being perfect.” She’s become increasingly political about where her stresses come from. “These issues have been caused by patriarchy: suffering from trying to be appealing or pleasing men in your life, the validation you’ve been wanting since you were a kid,” she says. “But I’m honest about the fact that even though I am against the patriarchy, I still feel the things that it’s given me.”

Lately, driving around the country in a Subaru Outback with her backing band (she alone is Soccer Mommy, but she tours and plays live with her boyfriend, Julian Powell, on lead guitar, Nick Brown on drums, and Gabe Wax on piano, the four of them taking turns behind the wheel and listening to horror story podcasts on YouTube to pass the time), she’s taken more control of her own circumstances, with an increasing success that has allowed her to, among other things, stop eating junk food. “Now we get $15 a day per diem, so we can get good stuff like Thai and sandwiches.” She’s also had to take more effort to preserve her throat so she can use it every night, though she admits she can make do with whatever comes out of her mouth: She tells me that many of the vocals on Clean were actually recorded when she was really sick with sinus problems. You’d never know that was the case considering how compelling she sounds on the album, but she doesn’t always hear it that way. “I hate my voice. When it’s crisp it sounds good, but other times it’s just a little weak,” she says. “My voice just gets weak.” Maybe that’s not always a bad thing.

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On “Historian,” Lucy Dacus Has Something to Say

When Lucy Dacus recently found a long-forgotten notebook of songs from middle and high school, she was shocked to discover just how much her adolescent writing still resonated. “It was interesting to see how my goals are exactly the same,” says Dacus, twenty-two. “At the core, my message has pretty much been the same since I was, like, thirteen. I’m better at writing songs now, but I’ve always been trying to write music that communicates worth in togetherness and self-sufficiency.”

On the eve of the release of Historian, her highly anticipated sophomore album, Dacus has more of an opportunity than ever to spread her enduring rock ’n’ roll beliefs. Two years after her debut, No Burden, became a cult favorite, Dacus is now ready to take her place as one of indie rock’s most formidable and trusted voices.

She addresses the accompanying responsibilities and pressures of assuming such a role on Historian, a gut-punch ten-song cycle in which Dacus interrogates her own evolving sense of identity, sociopolitical awareness, and role as a creator. The album, which incorporates a wider range of styles and arrangements than her debut, with flourishes of Seventies r&b, swaggering blues-rock, and orchestral pop, was recorded once again in Nashville, Tennessee, but this time Dacus and her band had a full week to flesh out arrangements and overdubs.

Her new album is a vulnerable statement that makes no effort to distinguish between Lucy Dacus the person and Lucy Dacus the performer. “So many people have access to who I really am,” she says of her fans. “The songs are very personal, so I don’t have a lot of separation, and I can’t really pretend like I do.”

As a child growing up in Richmond, Virginia, where she still lives today, Dacus often found herself in situations where she needed to separate her musical and private selves. “The two places where I would sing would be in theater or at church,” she says. “I couldn’t achieve the standard that’s expected in each of those environments. Those are two types of voices where I wasn’t a good singer, but I always did have a voice that was pulling against what I was trying to make it be. Now it feels so good to sing because there’s no pulling, it’s just planted.”

After spending years feeling alienated while singing, Dacus is relieved to have finally found her voice, which effortlessly alternates between warmly intimate soulfulness and full-throated rock ’n’ roll release.

On her new album, Dacus uses both her voice and her songwriting as a means of self-discovery. On Historian, songs often don’t arrive at their own revelatory refrain until the very last line, which Dacus will then repeat for emphasis. “You got a nine-to-five so I’ll take the night shift,” she sings toward the end of the album’s blistering breakup anthem “Night Shift.” “Everybody else looks like they figured it out,” she sings in the concluding moments of album centerpiece “Nonbeliever.”

“When I’m writing a song, it’s often because I’m trying to figure something out or express a thought, so it makes sense for me to stop writing a song when I’ve come to the correct and accurate summation of the thought,” she says. “That’s the last thing I’ll say because it’s the last thing I needed to say to myself.”

Often, her songs provide tangible resolution and real-life clarity on the ideas and questions that Dacus has in her own life. The process of writing “Yours & Mine,” a song inspired by the 2015 Baltimore protests that she describes not so much as a protest song as a “song about protesting,” has concretely helped Dacus sort out her own feelings about the importance of protest and collective action.

“It’s a personal decision to be political, and that song’s about weighing the anticipation of danger that comes with marching with your beliefs as a person and your need to live in a way that you find dignified and worthwhile,” she says. “Now that I’ve written that song, I can look back on my own words and remember what I think about all of that, so now it’s easier to make decisions about when to march and act more often, because after writing the song, I’m more aware of what it means to me.”

Despite a flurry of intense buzz surrounding Dacus (“How an Indie-Rock Star Is Made in 2018” reads a recent New York Times headline), Dacus remains unfazed by her growing accolades and largely unceremonious about the music industry. The way she sees it, she is not Lucy Dacus, the singer-songwriter on the verge of reshaping indie rock, but rather simply the frontwoman in a little rock ’n’ roll band called Lucy Dacus.

After enjoying her first prolonged break from touring in two years, Dacus is about to head out on the road for another extended album cycle with a group of old friends and longtime collaborators like her guitarist Jacob Blizard. But if Lucy Dacus is a band, it’s a band in which Dacus makes all the decisions about recording, songwriting, and performing. “I want to make everyone that has chosen to work with me proud,” she says.  

Despite her current success, at the moment Dacus is thinking about something a tour manager once told her. “He gave me some advice, which was that on average, most musician’s touring careers are five years,” she says. “So I keep that in mind, and that doesn’t actually freak me out.” She’s daydreamed about starting her own small publishing house, or even returning to her last job working in a photo lab in Richmond. And if her own musical career ever stalls out, Dacus has toyed with the idea of becoming a professional songwriter or starting her own small label that releases all her favorite Richmond bands.

But as she’s spent more and more time away from home in the last few years, Dacus does say that she’s given some thought as to whether or not she’d ever want to leave her beloved hometown. (“I’ve told my friends at home that if everyone moved to New York, I’d probably move too,” she says.) For the most part, she prefers the laid-back pace back home, where she recently bought a home and is part of a close-knit community of Richmond-based artists. On Historian, she eschewed working with a big-name producer in favor of reuniting with Collin Pastore, a fellow Richmond native and old friend who produced Dacus’s debut.

Pastore first heard Dacus play music roughly seven years ago, when she was not much older than fifteen. “I remember hearing her sing at my house — we were all just hanging out and playing music,” says Pastore. “Me and Jacob, her guitar player, were like, ‘Oh my god, this girl is the real deal.’ ”

Years later, Dacus has bloomed into an exacting lyricist who is equally comfortable writing sweeping rock choruses (“Addictions,” “Next of Kin”) or songs like “Pillar of Truth,” an intense meditation on her grandmother’s death that crams in a half-dozen or so biblical references.

At the moment, songs are pouring out of Lucy Dacus. “Usually it’s when I’m on a walk and it’s usually when I’m alone,” she says. She hasn’t slowed down since recording Historian in early 2017. “The third record is in the works,” she says. “There’s no stopping it.” She even recently tried her hand at writing pop tunes with a co-writer in Nashville. “I would never think I would write a pop banger, and I certainly don’t resonate with becoming a pop princess, but in the past couple months I realized I can do that too.”

If it all seems to come easy to Dacus, well, it kind of does: She can barely name a song on the new album that was difficult to write. “‘Night Shift’ wasn’t hard, ‘Addictions’ wasn’t hard, ‘The Shell’ wasn’t hard,” she says. “‘Nonbeliever’ wasn’t hard, but the interesting thing about that song, which hopefully doesn’t show, is that it was originally three separate songs, and I didn’t love any of them.”

For that track, Dacus had written three separate songs  over the course of more than five years, spanning from early high school to just last year. But turning them all into one composition was easy, she says, because after all, Lucy Dacus has been thinking about these things — family, religion, one’s sense of belonging in one’s community, the value of social relationships versus professional ambitions — ever since she first started scribbling songs in her notebook as a middle schooler.

“I had been working through this one thought through different lenses,” says Dacus. “But finally, I figured out that overall, it was all the same thought.”