Listening to Second Nature, the new album from indie-pop outfit Lucius, you’d never guess that it’s been six years since their last proper studio effort, 2016’s underrated art-pop gem Good Grief. Granted, the band hasn’t exactly been dormant in that time, they released an album of acoustic re-workings which they toured behind along with sporadic support and festival gigs, and singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig spent multiple years touring the globe as part of Roger Waters’ band and contributed their trademark paired vocals to tracks from the likes of Harry Styles, The War On Drugs, and Brandi Carlile, the latter of whom they enlisted to co-produce the new record alongside alt-country go-to Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Carlile). Now returning to their primary group they’ve delivered a tight set of songs that finds them sifting through turmoil and heartache while diving with confidence into the next creative chapter for their band.
While tapping Carlile and Cobb may suggest a certain sonic direction, Second Nature is far from a folky affair; in fact, it largely leaves behind that part of Lucius’ musical make-up and finds them leaning more heavily into their most pop-oriented inclinations, as forecasted on the instantly catchy lead single “Next to Normal”. Pulling its stylistic cues directly from dance and electro-pop of the last few decades – a flash of ABBA here, a hint of Robyn there – the album filters those touchpoints through the same left-of-center approach the band has brought to their previous studio output, resulting in a record that feels deeply familiar while sounding distinctly like Lucius.
The feel-good title track opens the album on a funky bed of congas, bass, and guitar before adding in synths, drums, and disco string flourishes as Wolfe and Laessig’s voices escalate from a hushed unison to glittering harmony on the song’s final chorus. Their voices come together in another spectacular moment on “24” after a slow swirling build of harmonies set against ghostly synths and an echoing snare drum, and the drama in their lovelorn performance on “Heartbursts” does a lot to sell the song’s pitch-perfect New Wave production. “Dance Around It” is a joyous affair that finds Lucius pulling from the Robyn playbook of dancing your pain away armed with an infectious hook, layers of big punchy bass, drums, and synthesizers, and background vocal assistance from Carlile and Sheryl Crow.
They strip things back for a moment on the centerpiece ballad “The Man I’ll Never Find”, which touches on Wolfe’s divorce from bandmate Dan Molad, exploring the realization that a partner may simply never fit into the box that you’re waiting for them to fit into. “I wish that it was worth all the work, and I wasn’t tired/I can’t just stop and try to fix it if I know that it was never right” she and Laessig sing over a building piano and dramatic strings before bringing the song to its chills-inducing climax. The following cut, “Promises”, delivers yet another strong hook with a mix of sunny acoustic guitars and thrumming synthesizers that calls to mind ‘80s Fleetwood Mac, especially when they launch into the group harmonies on the song’s outro.
Second Nature does start to drag with “LSD”, another new wave-inspired track that is pleasant enough but doesn’t end up leaving much of an impact, and whose “LSD/Love So Deep” refrain is maybe just a little too cute, but “Tears in Reverse” picks things right back up with one of the record’s sharpest dancefloor numbers; alternating the type of sly art-funk that colored some of Good Grief’s best moments with a pulsating synth-bass chorus and an uplifting melody and “White Lies” closes the album out with a stunning performance on another tear-jerker ballad, culminating in one of Lucius’ most explosive vocal moments to date.
After six years it doesn’t feel like Lucius has missed much of a step. With Second Nature they prove once again that they can filter in new sounds and stylistic ideas in a way that never feels inorganic, letting their songs and gift for memorable melodies shine through whatever outfit they’ve dressed them in. While there are certainly a number of contemporary artists pulling from the wells of disco and electro-pop these days, Lucius executes these styles with aplomb and brings the perfect amount of diva flair to the table, the alchemy in their vocal connection as striking as ever.