By Nick Porcaro
The Brooklyn indie pop quintet Lucius operates on a number of peculiarities—from forgoing a traditional drumset to trading instruments at a moment’s notice—but its main calling card is the soaring harmonies of identically dressed singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. 2013’s Wildewoman put the group on the map with a winning combination of sunny melodies and sassy instrumentals, culminating in the placement of “Turn it Around” in a ubiquitous Samsung commercial a few months ago. It’s only fitting, then, that much of Good Grief ruminates on how severe a change of pace the band has experienced in the wake of their newfound fame. Holly and Jess aren’t singing their hearts out for the fun of it anymore, they’re doing it because it’s the only way they know how to communicate, and this intensity is echoed by the cluttered, often uncomfortable arrangements on the record.
Part of what made Wildewoman remarkable was just how effortless it sounded, as if the group and record had existed for decades. The struggles of making Good Grief, on the other hand, are readily apparent. Choruses are weighed down by excessively long lyrics, chord changes clash awkwardly, and Holly and Jess’ vocal histrionics sound more panicked than confident (sometimes literally, as heard on “Gone Insane”). Only the excellent lead single “Born Again Teen” truly delivers on the promise that came with the group’s last album, successfully updating their doo wop-inspired, retro-chic sound with a slicker production and faster pace. It’s no wonder the band chose to perform it on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, although they must’ve known new fans looking for more of the same would be disappointed.
That’s not to say the rest of the record is a miserable affair, though. Lucius ambitiously attempts a bouncy, Haim-esque ’80s pop tune with “Almost Makes Me Wish for Rain”, a densely packed number about self-sabotage. And the epic, suspenseful album opener “Madness” shares the same timelessness that made Wildewoman such a treat. But there’s no excuse for the cringeworthy balladeering of “My Heart Got Caught on Your Sleeve”, or the whininess of “Better Look Back”, or the almost deliberately off-putting synth sounds crammed into the corners of nearly every song.
Good Grief is more than likely the album Lucius needed to make for themselves, but it’s less likely to continue the band’s stratospheric rise to the top of the indie scene. Maybe they’ll bounce back with a little bit of rest. Here’s hoping they find the time to get some.
Rating 5 out of 10