Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Lucius - Good Grief (2016)

"Inspiration feeds off of the deepest scars"

A somewhat offhanded lyric in the rather upbeat number "Almost Makes Me Wish For Rain" about regarding happiness with suspicion somehow functions as the thesis statement for powerpop outfit Lucius' latest offering Good Grief. It worked surprisingly well for their breakout album Wildewoman and the quintet has decided to double down on the blues to motivate themselves to overcome the sophomore slump. Considering the years Lucius spent not only refining and augmented their core sound as a must-see Brooklyn band but also taking the time to put out their debut full length record as a fivesome, the fact that they've managed to finish up a fully polished second helping in only two years and a cross country move is certainly unexpected and undoubtedly impressive.

 First single "Born Again Teen" while arguably the catchiest of the quintet's infectious retro-infused powerpop happens to be a rarity on Good Grief. With band members Jess Wolfe and Dan Molad dating and eventual marriage led to the band being compared to Fleetwood Mac, the band has elected to really just go full on Rumors for Good Grief. It's a record that's so wonderfully honest in how it regards relationships - the ecstatic highs demonstrated by the aforementioned "Born Again Teen" and "Something About You", the turbulent in "What We Have (To Change)" and "Gone Insane" and the heartbreaking ballad in "My Heart Got Caught On Your Sleeve".  It manages to engage in moment of rich, emotional honest while never really forgetting that it's a pop record. It this way it resembles the self-titled debut album of former tourmates and friends The Head and the Heart - songs deceptively upbeat in arrangement with underlying emotional complexity. Chief singers/songwriters Jesse Wolfe and Holly Laessig are on a role here and their vocals are the key to really selling most of these slice of life scenes - imbuing the necessary drama and emotional resonance. Take "Go Insane", a frenetic look at words said that escalate a disagreement to an all out explosion. Wolfe and Laessig's main calling card is their perfectly in sync harmonies and the fact that they allow themselves to slip out of it as they properly illustrates those moments where things get out of control and you're carried by pure vitrol. Wolfe and Laessig devolve in an aggressive shout match, their vocals fraught with abrasive tension and harsh to the ear and it's jarring as hell but so incredibly effective.

While Lucius has always made it a point to spotlight Wolfe and Laessig to the point that they're often the focus in press photos, they're bold colors and matching outfits, that it's easy to forget that Lucius is continuing to come into its own as quintet. The production of Good Grief, helmed by Dan Molad, is absolutely impeccable making up for some of the occasion wonkiness on Wildewoman, and the band is astounding rare form nailing the genre-shifts with effortlessness. Which is no easy feat. Going from the dance-pop of "Almost Makes Me Wish For Rain" all the way to the rootsy folk of album closer "Dusty Trails", Lucius covers a considerable amount of ground but manage to internalize those influences and personalize it in a way that it never quite feels like the jukebox style of retro pop that's increasingly popular.

Good Grief is a triumph of Lucius' continuous stylistic synthesis and earnest, engaging songwriting. It might not've been the easiest path from the critical success of Wildewoman to this new batch of songs but it's a testament to the magic that awaits when you put in the work and love what you do to the point of potential madness. No one who's ever heard them would mistake their success for a fluke but Good Grief is a indicator that Lucius is capable of wonderful amounts of growth that can still contain the sound they've been working at since their earliest days together.

Lucius' latest album, their second in their current incarnation, Good Grief is out March 11th on Mom + Pop. You can order the album here and stream via NPR's First Listen until its release.

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