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Lucius Layers Harmonies With Emotion In 'Good Grief'
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Lucius Layers Harmonies With Emotion In 'Good Grief'

Music Reviews

Lucius Layers Harmonies With Emotion In 'Good Grief'

Lucius Layers Harmonies With Emotion In 'Good Grief'
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The surging voices of two female lead singers create the signature sound of the five-piece band Lucius. Rock critic Ken Tucker says the band's new album, Good Grief, is often lovely and well-crafted.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

In a relatively short time, the band Lucius has attracted a wide, diverse following that includes the Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, who's blogged about the group. Lucius is a five-piece Brooklyn-based band whose signature sound is the voices of its two female lead singers. Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the new Lucius album "Good Grief."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BETTER LOOK BACK")

LUCIUS: (Singing) We'll say it perfectly, and it slips right through the cracks. They'll mince our words down to a nugget for the masses. And they'll push it down the conveyor belt once more, more. Something for everyone, something that's so different from before, before.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: The first thing you probably notice about Lucius is its lead vocals. Singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig sing in unison as frequently as in harmony, creating an urgency and emphasis on whatever idea, emotion or thought the band is trying to get across. Sometimes, that goal is simply to convey what it's like to feel like a kid again, as they do on a quick, peppery ode to adolescence called "Born Again Teen."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORN AGAIN TEEN")

LUCIUS: (Singing) It's a feeling, like a born-again teen. Got a heartbeat like we're only 16. Would you take my hand, baby? You know you know I like to dance. Maybe we'll be good. We can be good, you and I. You can follow me, or if you want to take a leap, you know it's obvious we're naturally aligned. It's a feeling like...

TUCKER: Wolfe and Laessig met as students at the Berklee College of Music and formed Lucius, moving to Brooklyn. The music is a magpie mix of styles and pop music periods - '60s girl group, '70s disco, '80s electropop - with the occasional florid ballad that would not sound out of place emerging from the throat of a contestant on "American Idol" or "The Voice." In other words, Lucius's music could have been excessive and derivative. But on the strength of tightly-stitched melodies, an occasionally striking image and those surging voices, it is more often lovely, well-crafted stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY HEART GOT CAUGHT ON YOUR SLEEVE")

LUCIUS: (Singing) Don't know how to start this. No, I don't know what to say. They seemed to fall out of the sky. Lost and found is all the same. Trying to think of my heart as an ocean where there's room enough for things to come up to the top. I'm counting on it sinking down again. Oh, oh, my heart got caught on your sleeve. I need it. Please give it back to me. My heart got caught on your sleeve. Please give it back to me. Please give it back to me.

TUCKER: One could point out that there's a certain sameness to Lucius's subject material, which tends towards the post-breakup, why-did-we-treat-each-other-so-badly mood. But I frankly don't much care about the meanings of the words when there's so much being communicated in the music and the tone of the vocals.

Listen to this song, "What We Have To Change." It's built around a chorus that would not be out of place in a gospel context or forming the architecture of a soul music single. It features Wolfe and Laessig singing as one as they climb a mountain - a mountain of melody, a mountain of romantic challenges - carrying the implication that there ain't no mountain high enough to keep them from getting to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT WE HAVE TO CHANGE")

LUCIUS: (Singing) Don't want to talk to you today. Don't want to play the games you want to play. I love you, baby, but I just don't know what we have - what we have to do to change. Leaving you has crossed my mind. I'm afraid another heart is hard to find. I love you, baby, but I don't know why - why our love - why it's fallen so behind. Find me a mountain or any grand canyons. Just find us an igloo, and I'll freeze with you. I'll climb any tower, take any grand notion. Just find an ocean to swim into. Anyway, if we don't find a way, I'll have to get over you.

TUCKER: Lucius has attracted quite a range of fans. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has put aside his thoughts on the economy to write about his fan crush on Lucius more than once. And Lucius appeared onstage alongside Pink Floyd's Roger Waters at the 2015 Newport Folk Festival. The album "Good Grief" was co-produced by Bob Ezrin, who's produced famous albums for Pink Floyd, Kiss and Alice Cooper. The songs frequently have a big sound. But they remain scaled to the proportions of the vocals. The result isn't a series of pretty showcases, but rather opportunities for them to blast past the instrumentation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALMOST MAKES ME WISH FOR RAIN")

LUCIUS: Here we are. Thought you'd have to rescue me. But thankfully, didn't get the best of me. It's not worth the fuss. It's not worth my time. I could lose it, but I'd be out of (unintelligible). So here we are on the side of the road, but the sun is out lightening my load. Just a flat tire and a helping hand - I could lose it, but it's just not so bad. Looking for...

TUCKER: I have emphasized the two vocalists in Lucius. They are very much the focal point of the group. The two women are credited with writing all the songs on this album, and they also tend to dress alike on stage. But Lucius is a band - a tight band and a very crafty group. The album title, "Good Grief," has a certain literalness. Even when lamenting love lost, gone or destroyed, mourning over it can be healthy if done the Lucius way. Romantic grief can be powerful, renewing - good grief.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed "Good Grief," the new album from the band Lucius. Coming up, the stars of the new Netflix comedy series "Love," Paul Rust and Joe Gillian Jacobs. This is FRESH AIR.

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