The first time I heard Lucy Dacus, I thought she was singing the most beautiful song about God I’d ever heard. It was 2017 and she was opening for Sylvan Esso at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Somehow, Dacus had the confidence to play a quiet tune to an antsy crowd who’d come to see an electronic pop duo. But she managed to hush the room with the buttery vocals that she’s now — four years and two albums later — known for.
“I’m not your lover, I’m not your friend, I am something that you’ll never comprehend,” she sang. “I’m your Messiah and you’re the reason why.”
It was a cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U,” but I didn’t know that at the time (sorry, Prince fans). I just thought it was the least-cringey worship song I’d ever heard. Dacus doesn’t write Christian music. She grew up within a fairly progressive church, but also attended her friends’ more conservative churches several times a week. Today, she doesn’t identify with any particular religion. Still, multiple songs in her 2021 album Home Video have traditionally Christian settings. Take the album’s second single, which draws its name from the abbreviation for vacation Bible school, “VBS”:
“In the summer of ‘07, I was sure I’d go to heaven, but I was hedging my bets at VBS. The preacher in a t-shirt told me I could be a leader. Taught me how to build a fire and to spread the word,” Dacus sings. From there, the lyrics get less orthodox and more fun: “In the evening everybody went to worship and weep. Hands above our heads, reaching for God. Back in the cabin, snorting nutmeg in your bunk bed, you were waiting for a revelation of your own.”
Home Video is full of personal revelations (the confessional style of her boygenius bandmates, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, likely rubbed off on her). In an interview with Vulture, Dacus explained that almost every song on Home Video draws upon her personal diary entries that she wrote between the ages of 7 and 17 — things that “took two to seven years to process.”
It can take a while to wade through adolescent memories — especially Baptist baggage — but listeners benefit from Dacus’ introspection. The album kicks off with “Hot & Heavy,” a warm, frenetic song about returning home. From there, each song spills into the next, transitioning with the tipsy grace of two childhood friends sharing beers in the basement where they used to host Bible studies.
Home Video could have just as easily been named “Youth Group” or maybe “Adventures in Suburbia.” The outer world is boring, but the inner world, fascinating. In the song “Christine,” Dacus is in the car with a friend, heading home from a sermon about “how bent on evil we are.” In “Cartwheel,” Dacus gets pissed at a friend for having sex for the first time. In “Thumbs,” Dacus goes to a bar with a friend who’s seeing her abusive father for the first time in years. In “Triple Dog Dare,” the mother of a friend she’s falling for forbids Dacus from spending the night anymore. The plotlines, like the instrumentation, start off minimalistic before swelling into something raucous and nostalgic. I can’t name a rocker more introspective than Dacus.
Apparently, a worship leader named Amy deserves a bit of credit for this. Back in May, Dacus tweeted: “Realized I literally play guitar because I had a crush on a VBS camp counselor who had us sing an acoustic cover of Hey Ya with the lyrics changed (Hey God) and I wanted to be like her so I bought a three quarter sized Ibanez off Craigslist for 100 dollars, so uh thanks Amy!”
Truly, thanks Amy. Because without you, maybe we wouldn’t have this quietly perceptive, occasionally slow, undeniably kind album. Home Video is not a Christian album, but I didn’t really want it to be. There are songs for VBS, but these are songs about VBS. We need both.
In a New York Times Style Magazine profile, writer Rebecca Bengal explained, that for Dacus, concerts “fill a void that church once did.” Home Video fills a musical void for me. They’re not songs for worship or for Jesus; they’re songs for people — the queer, the doubting, the confused — who are trying to process a childhood spent worshiping a savior that we can never fully understand.