Among my most cherished musical memories from 2013 was hearing Lucius’ ”Go Home” on Rdio and playing it again and again, with that sort of tumbling thrill you get when you experience the musical equivalent of love at first sight. Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig jointly front the band with voices that can go from plaintive to near-deranged in the space of a note or two, singing in tight harmonies that strive to erase the distinction between one and the other. (This effect is even more pronounced on stage, where Wolfe and Laessig dress as mirror images of each other.) Wildewoman, the 2013 album that spawned that song, matched confident, catchy songwriting with a production approach that split the difference between contemporary pop (”Turn It Around,” currently gracing a commercial for a new Samsung phone) and something rootsier and more timeless (the aforementioned ”Go Home”). Having spent the past year and change touring, the Brooklyn quintet return this week with Wildewoman’s follow-up, Good Grief.
Good Grief turns out to be an aptly titled release. Most of its 11 songs deal with the strange emotional spaces where conflicting feelings collide and blend: joy and trepidation (”Almost Makes Me Wish for Rain”), devotion and rage (”Going Insane,” which features a bona fide screaming match between the vocalists, who cop to having had a bit of an argument before the take). The relationships catalogued in these songs are laced with metaphors of struggle. ”What We Have (to Change)” is a great example — the conflict is captured right in the title, with that parenthetical that flips the meaning on its head, and beneath the devotional imagery of the lyrics is a craving for oblivion. Wolfe and Laessig sing:
Find me a mountain
Or any grand canyons
Just find us an igloo and I’ll freeze with you
I’ll climb any tower
Take any great notion
Just find us an ocean to swim into
Anyway, if we don’t find a way
I’ll have to get over you
This thematic unity is strengthened by a matching consistency in production. Whereas Wildewoman flirted with elements of pop, Good Grief jumps squarely into its lap. One of the strengths of the previous release was that, for all its flourishes, it still managed to capture the sound and vibe of five people playing together in a room. That feeling isn’t so much absent on Good Grief as irrelevant. Songs like the chirpy ”Almost Makes Me Wish for Rain” and leadoff single ”Born Again Teen” define the tone and mood of the record and demonstrate a band eager to expand into new territory. Yet underneath the heavily programmed drums and lacquered vocals, the band’s facility for catchy hooks is, if anything, even more apparent. Pop songwriters typically save the best hooks for the refrain, and Lucius takes that to the extreme, with an ear-candy chorus bursting open on nearly every tune. (For a fine example of how easy they make this look, check out their cover of Dylan’s “When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky,” which, once retrofitted with a Beatlesque chorus, becomes an unlikely pop classic.)
Good Grief shows Lucius staking out exciting new territory and confirms they have the charisma and craftsmanship to go the distance. Can’t wait to hear what they do next.