2001: A Space Odyssey imagined a future of haughty computers and psychedelic intergalactic travel. If director Stanley Kubrick turned his eye towards including girl groups in his 1968 masterpiece, he’d be hard pressed to conceive of anything more fitting than Brooklyn quintet Lucius. Co-frontwomen Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig’s twinsie meta-modern look (matching angular hairdos, dramatic makeup, and mod-influenced outfits) is matched only by their out-of-this-world voices.
Sometimes dabbling in pristine harmonies, the Berklee-trained sirens more often belt it out as a single unit with a force that decimates Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and has the potential to reach Jupiter. Multi-instrumentalists Andrew Burri, Peter Lalish, and Dan Molad round out the group with a Tetris-like mix of country-dusted indie pop and brash ‘80s funk kissed by Prince.
Collaborators for over a decade, Wolfe and Laessig leapt out of obscurity with 2013’s Wildewoman. The professional gains seem to have negatively impacted the band’s personal relationships if the lyrics on Lucius’ second release, Good Grief, are taken at face value. The album title alone channels both the hope and despair embodied by everyone’s favorite round-headed lovable loser — Charlie Brown. Those disparate emotions stand shoulder to shoulder on the album’s 11 tracks.
Swirling opener “Madness” recounts a literal fever dream with guns aimed point-blank in an act of revenge, brides on the run, flights missed by a hair, and running away from that menacing phantom that is time. Standing naked in front of a roomful of strangers is the only thing missing from this nightmare that pulsates with the same jarring dread of new horror classic It Follows. Yet whenever it gets to be too much, the neat ascending strings grant reprieve. Even when things turn messy on “Gone Insane”, with Wolfe and Laessig dissolving into the vocal equivalent of ugly crying, the music remains hymnal.
Voices this vast require production just as epic and Shawn Everett (Weezer, Alabama Shakes, Julian Casablancas) brings the wattage of a Celine Dion Las Vegas spectacle without it feeling shallow or cheesy. “What We Have (To Change)” starts simply enough with plunking middle school assembly piano, but as the ladies hurl high notes with ease, Everett counters with packed crescendos indebted to Ike and Tina Turner’s rupturing “River Deep – Mountain High”. A sawing interlude of Queen-sized proportions bookends the weary realization that “if we don’t find a way/ I’ll have to get over you.”
The band merely simmers on the gorgeous, yet tragic “My Heart Got Caught On Your Sleeve”, but the recalibration doesn’t negate the lullaby’s impact. Singing in unison, Wolfe and Laessig manage to sound demure and powerful. Together they make up one Adele, especially when helplessly echoing the line “I am lost in my own home,” which strikes at the core of Good Grief. This sentiment resurfaces on jaunty closing number “Dusty Trails”, when, again, the pair seem to share one beating heart as they proclaim wistfully, “Everyone’s around and I’m still alone.” Both tracks are wrapped in a gauzy mist that replicates the feeling of being able to look, but not touch.
Don’t confuse Good Grief with a maudlin display of heartache. Even when Lucius zero in on the complexities of romantic entanglements, there’s an electric bounce from the past to keep the pace chipper. “Almost Makes Me Wish For Rain” proves fans of Madonna and Annie Lennox can unite, while “Better Look Back” squeezes all the nutrients from Roxette and leaves behind the soullessness. The pizzazz of “Born Again Teen” certainly could find a place in one of Aussie director Baz Luhrmann’s sparkling romps. By now, if we’ve learned anything from the duo, it’s that two really are better than one.
Essential tracks: “Dusty Trails”, “What We Have (to Change)”