Album review: Lucius, ‘Good Grief’
Four tracks into its second album, Lucius drops what is effectively its mission statement. The song in question is a forlorn plea built on nothing but simple piano, restrained strings, wrenching harmonies, and quiet, untethered heartbreak. But the title — “My Heart Got Caught on Your Sleeve” — captures the defining aim of the Brooklyn quintet. Fueled by the open, empathetic tandem vocals of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, Lucius wants to explore big-swing emotionalism, and then have the listener vibrate in sympathy.
It was achieved easily enough on the band’s marvelous 2013 debut, “Wildewoman,” which culminated in the swelling balm “How Loud Your Heart Gets,” its previous essence-of-Lucius précis. “Madness,” the opening track of the new “Good Grief,” picks up right where that song left off — deliberate and soothing, but with blood pumping furiously through it — and then it cracks open completely on the chorus, as Laessig and Wolfe lift their unified voices to the skies and a string section flaps furiously to keep up.
But there’s an electronic thread running through “Good Grief” that feels new for Lucius. With its skippy ’80s funk-pop bounce, “Almost Makes Me Wish for Rain” recalls Eurythmics after Annie Lennox shed her ice-queen persona, and “Something About You” could be a Pointer Sisters jam with extra clatter. Along with the high-velocity, unbalanced roll of “Born Again Teen,” the heavy careening burble of “Almighty Gosh,” and others, it makes for a dancier collection than its predecessor. That’s a natural outgrowth of the ramshackle rhythmic underpinning that provided the scaffolding of much of “Wildewoman.” Here, it’s streamlined but not deemphasized.
Overall, in fact, the music on “Good Grief” isn’t as expansive as was “Wildewoman.” But it still comes across that way thanks to Wolfe and Laessig, who infuse their performances with a joy that’s almost unfettered, even when wallowing in pits of sorrow. They rarely leave one another’s side, which makes it all the more noticeable when, at the end of “Gone Insane,” they separate and fall out of synch as their grasp on the world falters. And a simple tapped-out beat continues pushing forward, acting as both a reminder of how they’ve fallen off the map and a beacon. They’ll find their way back eventually. Their hearts will guide them home.
ESSENTIAL “Gone Insane”
Lucius performs at Royale on March 29.