I have seen Lucius in concert a few times, and have reviewed their debut, self-released EP. I never reviewed their first album, which i thought took the EP and re-recorded it in a flat, lifeless manner and then added in a bunch of country-ish songs. But i really enjoy their live shows, and i think that dual vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig harmonize really well. So i picked up a copy of Good Grief, their sophomore album, curious as to what direction they would go in.
The answer is: new wave. Good Grief is steeped in 1980s sounds like crisp echoed synths that burble and pop, slippery synth bass, and drumming that sounds like it came from an old drum machine. Were any of these musicians even alive during the 1980s? Is this just some "retro" thing for them? You know you are old when bands are taking the music of your teenage years and distilling it into a "retro" sound. Sigh.
The album starts off with Laessig and Wolfe harmonizing slowly over some strings in Madness. The drums tap in and the song meanders in that vaguely country-ish kind of thing they did on Wildewoman, and then the song kind of pops with echoing keys and the voices really soaring on the choruses.
Something About You is straight up 1983 synthpop. The synths are crisp and bright and whooshing by over the faintly tinkling guitar. This sounds like something that Thompson Twins or Howard Jones would have released, a video with the vocalists in big hair and dayglo colors dancing around. It's catchy enough, i guess, but seems awfully derivative to me.
The next tune mixes it up as they step away from the dayglo 1980s and into the area of countrified soul. A piano tinkles as Laessig and Wolfe soar in What We Have (To Change). The 80s aren't far away though, as the bass has that flat slappy sound of the old stick bass. I like the country soul singing mixed with the 1980s bass work – it’s an interesting jutaposition.
My Heart Got Caught on Your Sleeve is a very similar song, only slower and with an earnest sad feeling to it. I think that this works really well.
It's back to the 80s for the exuberant Almost Makes Me Wish for Rain with hand clap sounds and whooshing synth noises. The synth bass sounds really funky here, giving the song a great little beat over keyboards that belong in a Ray Parker, Jr. song.
Gone Insane is a loud, shouty indie rock tune, and it is the song here that reminds me most of their debut EP. It moves along at a nice head-bopping pace.
Tinkling synths and that fake bass sound are back for Truce, a swinging 80s style song that would have fit perfectly on MTV between Prince and Duran Duran. This is a fun song though, really bopping along.
Almighty Gosh is just a weird song. There is an overdriven noise that i think comes on a keyboard and a guitar playing a Spanish-style riff over handclaps. It swings along i guess, but it all just seems weird, like Lucius decided to use all of their percussion instruments for this one song.
The next song is their single, Born Again Teen a loud soaring song with clattering percussion. This is a good indie dance song, but it sounds like it is a remix. That is, the voices and the guitar and the beats all sound like separate elements that have been looped and combined into a song in the studio, instead of something they played live. This is the only song on the album that explicitly sounds like that, and so it stands out to me.
Better Look Back is another dancey tune, with a nice beat and burbling synths. Another fun groove from Lucius here that gets nicely loud on the choruses.
And the album ends with Dusty Trails, another folkish song, Wolfe and Laessig harmonizing over strings and acoustic guitar. It's a pretty song with nicely soaring voices, and it brings the album back around to a song similar to the opening song.
Good Grief is a pretty solid record with a lot of nice moments.
I bought the vinyl and the download of it came with six bonus tracks, and a few of them are pretty noteworthy.
Lucius cover You Were On My Mind, a minor 1965 pop hit by We Five that you have probably heard before on some oldies station. The band do really well with the harmonies. This is a nice song for them to cover, really playing to their vocal and rhythmic strengths.
The demo version of My Heart Got Caught on Your Sleeve is slow and sparse, and the whole band harmonizes to "I got lost in my own hope / I am lost" and it sounds so sad and tragic – it is really wonderfully done that they can channel that kind of emotion with just voices and piano.
The final bonus track is a cover of David Bowie's 1983 hit Let's Dance. I suspect that this song was among the inspirations for many of the tracks on this album, its 1980s synth cheese and fake bass riffing seems to dominate the record. I suppose that they do this one well enough, but honestly it's not my favorite Bowie tune. I guess that lots of Bowie covers are to be expected in 2016.
But overall i am pleased with this record. I like what Lucius is doing, even though they are repacking my teenage years back to me, for the most part. I wonder what they will do next.