The story goes that a very young Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had recorded an album of acoustic folk tunes, originals and cover songs, that performed so poorly that the duo broke up. But a burgeoning folk rock scene needed its songs, and a producer—the unsung hero Tom Wilson—decided the soft, plaintive “The Sound of Silence” needed some fucking guitar. This is probably the version you know. The guys reunited, Simon & Garfunkel, become very famous. It was a tract that so many bands had to take in the 1950s and 60s that “going electric” was a thing, but starting just about at the first Unplugged this is the exact opposite of what a band does now. The first two or three times through Lucius’ new album Nudes, this is practically all I can think about.
There’s something about the earnestness of an acoustic instrument that lends a gravitas to a recording. But more importantly, an acoustic guitar naturally accompanies a vocal better than an electric guitar (there are exceptions, of course). Lucius, a vocal duo like Simon & Garfunkel, preternaturally understand the power of their voices better than your average band. They eke out harmonies that can on one track be calming, and on another chilling. Think about the end of a track like “Gone Insane” as the music begins to fade out and Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig scream the coda becoming more and more unhinged by the strictures of melody. It is one of the most deeply moving uses of the human voice as instrument I’ve heard since Kanye used his voice like a guitar solo on “Runaway.”
So instead of feeling like a rehashing of material—Nudes is three new songs, plus three covers and four old-tunes—there’s a sense that this is “The Sound of Silence” but in reverse. It’s a way to discover the true quality of the songcraft, and the extraterrestrial quality of their singing through minimal accompaniment. Take a second listen to “Tempest” as their vocal lines diverge and converge more intensely than on the original which is saturated with reverb. The word to use is intimate, like in every review of any Unplugged album, but intimacy is why we go to concerts and listen to music in our headphones. You could play Wildewoman at a house party, Nudes at a dinner party.
This is not to say that Wildewoman, nor its follow up Good Grief don’t have their artistic bona-fides. Part of what makes Lucius so good is their impeccable ear, which shines in any circumstance. Those songs that were previously released work both as acoustic and electric compositions. But this also brings up their constant ability to find songs that work wonders with their style, like Gerry Rafferty’s “Right Down The Line.” It joins other left-field covers like “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “You Were On My Mind” as just pitch-perfect examples of why knowing thyself (or thyselves) and having good taste are so important: Holly and Jess are paragons of this virtue. More common is “Goodnight Irene,” one of the great all-time American tunes, covered with Roger Waters with whom they toured throughout 2017.
And really, Lucius works with everybody and everybody wants to work with Lucius. Nudes, I think, has the better version of “Million Dollar Secret,” which was used in the final season of HBO’s Girls, simply because it has Nels Cline on it. Blake Mills was on their first album, speaking of great guitarists, which is how they ended up on John Legend’s album that Mills produced. If a band, like a person, is known by the company they keep, Lucius should surely be larger. They’re still waiting for their “Sound of Silence” moment. Maybe I’m brainwashed because I think financial success should be equated with artistic success, but alas they are a great band for those “in the know.” They are a million dollar secret that I will never get tired of telling people about.
Article: Christopher Gilson