I’m a big fan of cinematic albums. Records that have distinct narrative flows, apart from showing the love and care put into their construction, just feel like a more worthwhile experience rather than a slap-dash compilation of random songs with no relation to one another. Despite its amateur-referencing title, Home Video is an album that deserves to be played in the theatre hall that appears on its cover: it’s an album with a plot, direction, and purpose.
The third LP from American singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus, Home Video is a resplendent trip through Dacus’ small-town upbringing in central Virginia through the suburbs of Richmond. Each song introduces a new scenario or lively character to the proceedings. The eponymous figure in ‘Christine’, who doesn’t know their own worth, the nutmeg-snorting boyfriend in ‘VBS’, the uncool hipster who tries to play it cool by monopolising their personality with big words and refined cinematic tastes on ‘Brando’.
The line “You called me cerebral/ I didn’t know what you meant/ But now I do/ Would it have killed you/ To call me pretty instead” is key to understanding the themes of the album. It’s not anti-intellectual: it’s innocent and nostalgic and longing for real connection at a time when you need it most. It’s anti-pretentious and anti-fakeness, not willing to accept the walls that we all hide our true selves behind.
The album freely alternates between spacey electronica-driven songs such as ‘Partner in Crime’, folky acoustic numbers like ‘Going Going Gone’, and full-force rock and roll, like the breathless ‘First Time’. Dacus always feels comfortable with her wide-ranging musical toolbox, happy to burst out autotune or a wonky keyboard if it serves the arrangement well.
The album has several highlights, like the gentle harmonies of ‘Cartwheel’ or the minimalist synth swirl of ‘Thumbs’, but I found the most joy in the album closer ‘Triple Dog Dare’. Even though it was nearly eight minutes long, it wasn’t long enough. Stretching out the album to its emotional and climactic conclusion, the track brings together all the themes and instrumental flourishes of the past 40 minutes and takes them out on a triumphant high that overflows with highly specific experiences that can still transcend into universality. Dacus finally escapes the stifling small town by the end, and even though her look back isn’t through rose-coloured glasses, she also can’t help but bring a certain warmth and fondness back to the place where she grew up.
The only downside I can think of is that I didn’t feel like I sat with the album long enough before proclaiming it our Album of the Week. Even after three listens, it still feels like there are details that I missed, stories I didn’t quite understand, and moments that Dacus took great pains to create that I just didn’t pay attention to.
Ultimately, that’s something that you run the risk of when you produce a piece of public art that’s so personal. Dacus has made no bones about this being a work directly inspired by her own life, which can mean that some of her biggest and most important moments have the possibility of being shrugged off, criticised, or even hated. Such is the life of the artist, I suppose.
The good news is that Home Video is a wonderfully deep and thoroughly fleshed out rabbit hole for anyone who wishes to see how Dacus evolved into who she is today. It’s an album that never sacrifices melody or musicality for storytelling or plot, but brings the two together to feed off and compliment one another. Each song is a puzzle piece into the past of an artist who has now firmly established her unique voice as one of the great singer-songwriters of her generation.