We can’t all be the centre of attention. Some of us have to be the straight man, the wing man, the back-up. Lucy Dacus seems to identify with those peripheral roles and make music for people who also identify with them.
Primarily, Dacus’s No Burden deals in love: found, lost, unrequited, at first sight. These are songs about that person you fell for, or the person who slipped away from you. It’s a band with drums, bass, guitars, and a singer opining about relationships, i.e. nothing revolutionary in and of itself. It’s the work of a younger artist, and most of the things I’m not super fond of—the occasional slips into blues-type progressions, notably—seem to reflect the fact that she and her band are early in their careers.
But to dismiss it for not reinventing the wheel would miss all the things that No Burden does right.
First off, Dacus has a fantastic, rich voice, with a great sense of when to control it and when to let it loose. The lyrics find clever, meaningful ways to talk about things you thought you were done talking about: What am I supposed to do with you in the room? What am I supposed to say with your green eyes on my red face?, or I’m more surprised every time you’re alive when I check for your breath in the morning, or Without you I am surely the last of our kind.
The band does an admirable job in their arrangements, creating space where the vocals need it, building in intensity well past bland singer-songwriter territory. While it’s Dacus’s show, the record feels like the work of a band. The production complements the arrangements quite well, warm and dirty and sweet in all the right places. It’s a pleasure to listen to.
But what makes this album shine is that Dacus frequently demonstrates that she knows who she is and who she isn’t. It’s clear on the fantastic opener, where she’s tired of being thought of as “the funny one”. It continues on the next track, where she considers a beautiful woman and the challenges that must come with being her, and how that relates to her own life. She laments not believing in love at first sight because no one’s ever quite looked at her the right way. Dacus seems to understand, and at times accept, that she’ll never be anyone but who she is. These are love songs for people who identify with Carraway over Gatsby, or Watson over Holmes, for people who don’t need to be the most important person in the room. Those are the genuinely interesting people, who don’t think of themselves as the main character in some fairy-tale story, who can be smart and funny and charming and humble without demanding attention. I guess that makes No Burden music to fall in love with the people I like, and that’s refreshing to me.