Time may be a construct, but it’s a pretty damn tireless one. It doesn’t stop when a family member dies, when you move to a new city or when a depression spell hits. The unending flow of time is overwhelming, a riptide that sweeps us under and threatens to drown us as we realize that, fuck, 2019 is almost over and we are on the precipice of a new decade. It’s like what Steve Miller so astutely once taught us: “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.”
To counter this, man created holidays to demarcate time and give us a reason to look around and remind ourselves where we are in this continuous cycle of seconds and days and years. Lucy Dacus, always a melancholic and incisive observer of the human condition, puts her own spin on these special days with 2019, her eclectic collection of holiday songs. With three original tracks and four covers, Dacus simultaneously examines and celebrates New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Taurus Season (with a nod at Mother’s Day), Fourth of July, Bruce Springsteen’s birthday, Halloween and Christmas.
Thanks to the nature of this project, only one remaining song on 2019 has yet to be heard by the general public: “Fool’s Gold,” Dacus’ ode to the New Year and a high point of the mini-album. After a little glimmering piano, she comes in on warm, thrumming guitar, slowly peeling back the gilded layer covering up one of the most hollow holidays. No matter what year it is at the stroke of midnight, “He’ll blame the alcohol / And you’ll blame the full moon,” she reminds us, before declaring, “You say that it’s all the same, all glittering fool’s gold.”
All three original songs—“Fool’s Gold,” “My Mother and I” and “Forever Half Mast”—are tinged with the sort of tender sadness that Dacus does best. On “My Mother and I,” Dacus sings of the similarities between herself and her mom, a fellow Taurus, opening with the devastating observation that “My mother hates her body / We share the same outline / She swears that she loves mine.” She skewers American exceptionalism on “Forever Half Mast” over steel guitar evoking a more sincere Americana, laughably singing, “Yes, you’re evil, but you’re not that bad.” It honestly sounds like something Joe Biden might say about one of his across-the-aisle chums.
Of the covers, “La Vie en Rose,” shines brightest and is such a refreshing take on the old standard that, at first, I forgot it was a cover and nearly lumped it in with the originals. Dacus dives headfirst into romanticism—a rare occasion on an album that tends to regard most special occasions with a winking knowingness—with a persistently plucked guitar that will make your heart race. As the song builds upon ebullient piano and synth, your heart is sure to swell, too.
Dacus’ cover of “Dancing in the Dark” is a satisfying tribute to The Boss, and “In the Air Tonight” likewise does justice to Phil Collins’ classic track. The latter is an inventive choice for Halloween, though I would pay good money to hear her cover “Monster Mash” and even more to see her pull the same exaggerated faces as Bobby Pickett. But this is Dacus, who manages to take a concept album that could have been quite kitschy and turns it into something gorgeous and poignant that can be listened to all year round. She defies expectations, bringing an upbeat punk sensibility to Wham’s sad-sack Christmas standard and sing-speaking the verses. Dacus marries the energy of The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” with “Last Christmas,” and the result would make even the Grinch crack a smile.
Pop the bubbly. Buy that heart-shaped box of chocolates. Send that overly earnest card. Dacus has done it again, and that’s reason enough to celebrate.