New Lucy Dacus means it’s a red-letter day in Paste’s house, and today, that’s especially true: The Richmond, Virginia singer/songwriter has finally released “Thumbs,” the live-set staple and fan-favorite track so beloved by Dacus diehards, it inspired a “Has Lucy released Thumbs yet?” Twitter account.
Dacus wrote “Thumbs” during “a 15-minute car ride to dinner in Nashville,” per a press release, but it has the specific detail and depth of emotion of a song crafted across a far wider span of time. Dacus says of “Thumbs” in a statement:
Like most songs I write, I wasn’t expecting it and it made me feel weird, almost sick. It tells the story of a day I had with a friend during our freshman year of college, a significant day, but not one that I had thought of for years. I started playing it live a month or so later during the boygenius tour after Phoebe [Bridgers] and Julien [Baker] encouraged me to. I knew I wanted a long time to get used to playing it since it made me feel shaky, so I ended sets with it for about half the shows I played in 2019. Before I played it, I would ask the audience to please not record it, a request that seems to have been respected, which I’m grateful for.
It’s easy to see why Dacus found “Thumbs” so difficult to be at ease with: The song finds her recalling a harrowing encounter over oceanic synth and mellotron, with little to distract from her moving vocals: “Your nails are digging into my knee / I don’t know how you keep smiling,” she sings of her friend, who’s somehow holding it together during a confrontation with her estranged father—it’s strongly implied their family history is a dark and, for her, traumatic one (“I would kill him / if you let me”). Dacus’ compassion for her friend is interwoven with visceral anger at the man who hurt her: “I love your eyes / and he has ‘em. / Or you have his / ‘cause he was first. / I imagine my thumbs on the irises / pressing in / until they burst.” Ultimately, all Dacus can do is help her friend carry on—one imagines that listeners who’ve dealt with similar trauma may feel better equipped to do so, now that “Thumbs” is out in the world.
“Thumbs” is Dacus’ first proper solo release in two years, and while there’s no official word on her next album just yet, that didn’t stop us from including it among our most-anticipated releases of the year. The artist’s star has risen steadily since her 2016 debut No Burden—in 2018, she released her breakout sophomore LP Historian, topping Paste’s end-of-year album ranking, and joined forces with Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers as indie supergroup boygenius, releasing a self-titled EP that topped its respective ranks, as well. Dacus released a series of holiday-themed covers and one-offs throughout the following year, eventually collecting them as an EP simply titled 2019. She’s stuck mostly to covers since then, as well, such as the rendition of Yo La Tengo’s “Tom Courtenay” she shared last April.
Listen to “Thumbs” below and revisit Dacus’ 2016 Daytrotter session further down.