Mal Blum, Fenne Lily
1811 14th St. NW
Washington, DC, 20009
Watch & Listen
You said, “Don't go changing.
I'll rearrange to let you in
and I'll be your historian
and you'll be mine.
And I'll fill pages of scribbled ink,
hoping the words carry meaning.”
Then one day, the motorcade,
covered in flower wreaths,
first in a big parade,
will come to take one of us away
leaving the other with plenty to read.
Lucy Dacus is done thinking small. Two years after her 2016 debut, No Burden, won her unanimous acclaim as one of rock's most promising new voices, Dacus returns on March 2 with Historian, a remarkably assured 10-track statement of intent. It finds her unafraid to take on the big questions — the life-or-death reckonings, and the ones that just feel that way. It's a record full of bracing realizations, tearful declarations and moments of hard-won peace, expressed in lyrics that feel destined for countless yearbook quotes and first tattoos.
"This is the album I needed to make," says Dacus, who views Historian as her definitive statement as a songwriter and musician. "Everything after this is a bonus."
She emphasizes that she does not take her newfound platform as a touring musician for granted. "I have this job where I get to talk to people I don't know every night," she remembers thinking on the long van rides across America to support No Burden. Realizing that she would have a dramatically expanded audience for her second album, she felt an urgent call to make something worthwhile: "The next record should be the thing that's most important to say."
The past year, with its electoral disasters and other assorted heartbreaks, has been a rough one for many of us, Dacus included. She found solace in crafting a thoughtful narrative arc for Historian, writing a concept album about cautious optimism in the face of adversity, with thematic links between songs that reveal themselves on repeat listens. "It starts out dark and ends hopeful, but it gets darker in between; it goes to the deepest, darkest, place and then breaks," she explains. "What I'm trying to say throughout the album is that hope survives, even in the face of the worst stuff."
Dacus and her band recorded the album in Nashville last March, re-teaming with No Burden producer Collin Pastore, and mixed it a few months later with A-list studio wizard John Congleton. The sound they created, with substantial input from multi-instrumentalist and live guitarist Jacob Blizard, is far richer and fuller than the debut — an outward flowering of dynamic, living, breathing rock and roll. Dacus' remarkable sense of melody and composition are the driving force throughout, giving Historian the immersive feel of an album made by an artist in full command of her powers.
The album opens with a striking three-track run. First comes "Night Shift," the only breakup song Dacus has ever written: "In five years I hope the songs feel like covers, dedicated to new lovers," she memorably declares. Next is the catchy, upbeat first single "Addictions," inspired in part by the dislocated feeling of life on the road and the lure of familiarity ("I’m just calling cause I’m used to it/And you’ll pick up cause you’re not a quitter…"), followed by "The Shell," a reflection on (and embrace of) creative burnout. There's nothing tentative about this opening sequence. Right away, it's clear that Dacus is on a new level of truth-telling and melodic grace.
Another key highlight is track five, "Yours & Mine" — "the centerpiece where the whole album hinges in on itself," Dacus says. Using a call-and-response format, she wrestles with the question of how best to participate in a community broken by injustice and fear while staying true to what one believes is right. "It's about realizing your power as a person, and deciding to do the less safe but ultimately more powerful move, which is to move physically forward — show up and march — and move forward politically," says Dacus, who began writing the song during the 2015 Baltimore Uprising against systemic racism.
Historian closes with two stunning songs: "Pillar of Truth," a heartfelt tribute to Dacus' late grandmother, and "Historians," which sums up the album's complex lessons about loss. "From the first song to 'Pillar of Truth,' the message is: You can't avoid these things, so accept them. There's ways to go about it with grace and gratefulness," she says. "Then 'Historians' says that even if you can say that, there's still fear, and loss is terrifying. You still love things, so it's going to hurt. But dark isn't bad. It's good to know that.”
“Spending Friday night alone/I’m reading Campus frat boy porn/strewn on the
table/for my roommate/when he finally gets home”
And so opens the first track on Mal Blum’s new LP *You Look a Lot Like Me *out
on Don Giovanni Records October 2nd. In many ways, the scene is
immediately set for the record that follows: one that that vastly explores
themes of struggle and loneliness through a lens of self-effacing humor.
Though perhaps an odd choice for the opening line off most bands’ label
debut, this immediate leap into first person narrative is unsurprising in
“I was never much of a musician,” Mal laughs. “I was more of a writer. I
had a lot of things that I needed to work out. I picked up music as a
vehicle to express words and narrative”
You’d never guess this, though, by Mal’s extensive musical discography, and
past touring efforts, in addition to the new LP Don Giovanni Records is
releasing this fall.
Looking to depart from previous efforts, there was a conscious decision to
move from the more anti-folk vibe of past material, switching over to a
solid-body guitar for the first time, and adapting the songs into rock
*Marissa Paternoster* (guitarist/singer of Screaming Females) produced the
album, going through sixteen songs Mal had written and paring them down to
ten that made the final cut. Marissa also lent a hand playing second guitar
and performing backup vocals, while making suggestions as to the structure,
and even length, of songs.
“I knew that I wanted it to be an electric album but I think the way it
sounds is totally Marissa’s influence. Marissa really made it a trio, a
band arrangement—whereas before I would have all sorts of guest musicians,
auxiliary instrumentation, 10, 12, 14 different musicians—Marissa said,
‘you have a bassist (Audrey Zee Whitesides, of Worriers and Little Waist),
you have a drummer (Steph Barker), you’re the guitarist, and I’m going to
play second guitar and sing backup and that is all you need.’”
This collaborative effort resulted in a stripped-down, punk-influenced,
indie rock record—a tighter, plugged-in, and less scrappy version of Mal’s
work, emphasized by big guitar hooks, crunchy distortion, and that
signature vocal flare and lyrical ingenuity Mal Blum has always showcased.