Second Nature LP
(Mom + Pop Records)
Not so long ago, an article was published outlining the concept and idea of “post-genre” pop, and the very idea made this critic scoff. “Attention spans have grown shorter,” I thought. “The way that many young people define themselves, the things they like and the things they don’t like have seemed to become even more codified.”
It took a couple of minutes, but I finally figured out what “post-genre” might mean – and my discovery came very much with Lucius’ help. I propose that the sound a band assembles is just as important now as it ever was; but the individual pieces which go into that assemblage and the origin of those pieces matter less.In effect, as long as the final product resonates well, the process of development doesn’t matter. Lucius’ Second Nature helped me come to that conclusion because, in many ways, it inhabits a few formal inconsistencies (in theory) but presents a solid and satisfying record overall; it places disco music as its keystone complete with lush string passages and danceable beats, and incorporates the sneer of punk (or post-punk) as equally important to this music’s final form. The idea sounds unlikely in print, but it plays so well that one gets the impression it always could have – if fans were brave enough to just let the walls which had been built between those aforementioned forms dissolve.
As Second Nature‘s title track slides out smoothly to open the album’s A-side, those of a particular age will instantly begin to recall a series of images borne straight out of the Seventies; leisure suits, roller skates, disco music and bellbottoms all aerate out from between the spare but driving, groovy beat as well as the slippery string snippets which couple it. In print, such a beginning may seem soft or unlikely or mawkish, but actually hearing it reveals 1.) how talented singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig are and 2.) how great the hook is in “Second Nature” that it holds listeners both transfixed and anxious to hear what might follow it.
After “Second Nature” sets the precedent for the album’s A-side, further developments appear as the A-side progresses. Listeners will be absolutely floored, for example, when “Next To Normal” incorporates a healthy helping of disco spirit just like the stuff which used to leech out of Club 54 on a Saturday night in the Seventies, but cut with an excellent, sharp and sardonic wit (check out lines like, “Ooh, when I’m close to you, I’m next to normal/ I feel immortal/ I’m high without the paranoia”) which is guaranteed to appeal to any member of the punk and post-punk communities. After that, Wolfe and Laessig revive some more vintage vocal vibes with “24” as well as some synth accompaniment which was last used by Wilson-Phillips to achieve soul searching vibes that are about half as good as you remember before “Dance Around It” gets genuinely moody with a very Cure-informed set of synths that would be in danger of causing listeners to start losing patience or interest – were those vocals not quite so bright as they are. Because they are though – and because the contrast between light and dark plays as well as it does – listeners will be thrilled at the chance to follow the album onto its flip-side to see what other treasures they may find.
As strongly as the A-side if Second Nature ends, the B-side feels as though it wants to start from scratch – regardless regardless of any advantage it may have already won from its predecessor. “The Man I’ll Never Find” really starts at a disadvantage as it lifts part of the vocal melody from Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror” and rides a similar tempo into an introspective space which is not ideal. Happily though, “Promises” follows close behind “The Man I’ll Never Find” and redeems it by offering some resolution before getting back out on the dance floor with the sure hit that is “LSD.” There, Lucius doesn’t get as bright or colorful as its chemical namesake – but at least shows a greater energy level.
The late playing of Second Nature‘s B-side attempts to walk a pretty treacherous line as “Tears In Reverse” tries to make an artistically questionable idea work (listeners will find it easy to ask the same question the singers do when they try to understand couplets like, “Tears in reverse/ What comes first/ Wanting the water or feeling the thirst”) but, happily, Lucius manages to close out the album with a strong effort in the form of “White Lies.” There, Wolfe and Laessig deliver a straightforward and affecting ballad which is all about the heartbreak at the end of a relationship – no attempt is made to invert or otherwise re-angle the heartache that is obviously at the core of lines like, “Do I really need a reason/ If I have no doubt/ Until nothing is left/ So let’s just pretend – for now.” In its own way, that sort of simplicity is the perfect thing to close out Second Nature; after the album has tried so hard to subvert so many sonic, structural and stylistic ideas, illustrating that Lucius is capable of just levelling with listeners is the bait that will get them to come back, when the band produces a follow-up. In the way that “White Lies” closes the album too, Lucius shows listeners that there might be a lot of other musical ideas left in their songbook; Second Nature is a really strong album, but it also gives the impression that the band still has a few steps to make before they’re at the top of their game. For that reason, it’ll be really interesting to see what comes next. [Bill Adams]
Lucius’ Second Nature LP is out now. Buy it here, directly from the band’s official website.