March 22, 2018 | Arts and Culture
two voices carry
lucius gives an enthralling performance
Moving as mirror images, the frontwomen of Lucius face each other and sing into the same microphone. Their voices fuse and collapse into one as they feather through sprawling melodies to reach soprano notes clear as glass. Doubled and echoed by background singers flanking them, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig take on the form of each other’s reflections. The two women appear magnetized, mimicking each other to produce a recursive flow—far from mechanized, their movement in sound and space is all the more enthralling for its human intentionality.
Lucius appeared at Columbus Theater on Friday night to sing from their album Nudes, released earlier this month. They are far from the lighthearted musicians I watched years ago, spinning in sunflower-yellow dresses and singing from “Wildewoman”, “She’s gonna find another way back home / it’s written in her blood oh it’s written in her bones.” Following their initial album Wildewoman, the band released Good Grief, an album shot through with growing pains and littered with song titles like “Gone Insane” and “Almost Makes Me Wish for Rain.” They were vagabonds, centering themselves within their earnest searching. Letting their voices rise and fall in the song “Madness,” they sang, “My friend is running in her wedding dress / she left her gifts behind / I’ll never figure out just what we’re trying to find.”
For its latest compilation, Lucius incorporated tracks from its previous albums, shaving down and intensifying their earlier work. The reimagined “Tempest” is jarring next to the easy flow of the original, upending the simple harmony to draw in disjointed vocals. The new song’s softer edges leave room for the discomforting notes, becoming less mellifluous but more cathartic.
Draped in gold and black for the Nudes tour, the band offered newly focused tracks with unprecedented solemnity and thoughtfulness. Lucius’s wanderlust and infectious yearning persist in their most recent album, but they are veiled with restraint. The stripped-down acoustic set draws more focus to the many forms assumed by their voices: The singers erupt into full-throated arcs of sound in some songs and offer wandering whispers in others.
The vinyl edition of Nudes sold at the show was ornamented with miniaturized versions of the duo’s faces, replicated dozens of times in an array that spills outwards toward the record’s perimeter. The design was inspired by the zoetrope—a spinning device that let viewers peer through slits to observe snapshots of sequential images, creating the illusion of movement before motion picture technology brought us the movie reel. Whirling Wolfe and Laessig’s faces into a blur, the design evokes the same hypnotizing pull as the band’s mirrored performance and their near-synchronous singing.
Any shifts from this unity serve as a stark contrast. Though Lucius’s harmonizing ranges from subtle to striking, even these deviations don’t reflect Laessig or Wolfe individually. You can try to trace their voices back to the separate singers, matching deviations in tone to the shapes of their lips, but you’ll never have more than a guess. Their voices do not exist in isolation. “We sing songs that have two hearts, two minds,” one said between songs. Matching gold necklaces glimmered over their chests. “When we sing together, we create a voice that’s a third thing.”
The mystery of this confluence encircles the duo with an unfamiliar and alluring presence, allowing them to offer a unique impression. Both soft spoken and forceful, they provide remedies with their united arching voice. In the final track of the album, “Goodnight, Irene,” Lucius leaves listeners with a lullaby, the blown-out audio grating against their intimate vocals.
Uplifted by its acoustic style, Nudes engenders equal parts of calm and catharsis with its newly symphonic songs. In a political moment that evokes both concordant screams and desperate cries, Lucius projects a carefully constructed sound that bleeds strength into its listeners. “Our greatest hope and dream is that you will take something from this,” one of the singers said. “Love or peace or tranquility or laughter.”
But their music has lost pieces of its youthful optimism. Haunted by the need for their soothing and empowering effects, their newest tracks provide a more complicated comfort. Breathing new life into Tempest from their first album, they leave a weighted reminder: “Temper into tempest / washes off the madness.” Since the band’s formation less than a decade ago, Lucius has carved their music to its core. Wolfe and Laessig speak to each other, breaking slightly from their melodious synchrony and leaving a deeper resonance than ever before.