Lydia Luce's mesmerizing sophomore album “Dark River” is filled with catchy genre-bending folk beats, a plethora of dreamy instrumental notes and powerful lyrics, intertwining to create an emotional and immersive experience. The 11 tracks contain the ideal ratio of soft, emotional ballads to upbeat refrains that are bound to get stuck in your head.
According to her website, Florida native Luce wrote “Dark River” after a difficult breakup inspired her to venture into nature. The songs reflect that experience authentically, vividly capturing the struggle to let go of a relationship and finally accept being alone. The lyrics throughout the album place a strong emphasis on the mental strain that comes with the pain on the road to acceptance.
The album kicks off with “Occasionally,” a whimsical introduction to Luce’s style. The soft verse transforms into a chorus that practically begs for a sing-along. In lyrics and melody, it introduces listeners to the mixed emotions that define the album’s theme. The beauty of the song is in the gentle sway of its melody, that elicits the same feeling as a peaceful walk through a field. However, the title track and lead single “Dark River” is the true shining star of the record. The song is less folksy than the others, bringing in elements of rock for a genre-bending hit. Catchy from the start, the melody builds into an upbeat, serotonin-filled track. It’s impossible not to dance or at least do some toe-tapping when Luce hits the chorus with “I go down to the dark river / They can’t see me there.”
Besides the title track, the album has two more dynamic earworms in “Never Been Good” and “Leave Me Empty.” “Never Been Good” begins with a quick tempo and striking tune, building in intensity until the refrain. “Leave Me Empty” does the same, with a greater emphasis on Luce’s folk sound. Both songs dive into self-reflection in the midst of a relationship that needs to end, with the former claiming “No, I’ve never been very good / At goodbye” and the latter recognizing that “You can’t fill me up, so leave me empty.” Though both songs have a clear message and strong tempo, “Never Been Good” lacks the lyrical depth of Luce’s other songs.
“Tangled Love” moves in a different direction, feeling more like a melancholy fairytale with its dreamy strings and homegrown percussion lighting up the background. Luce paints the tumultuous relationship with vivid imagery as it nears its expiration date, belting lines such as “Darker than velvet, warmer than air.” This low-key song is a refreshing break in between some of the bolder tracks.
“Something to Say” is another warm, mellow tune that emphasizes the record’s folk genre. In lines such as “I’m waiting for a chance to breathe / Searching for the words to speak,” Luce explores her ambiguous feelings with honesty. “Maybe in Time” seems similar, but takes a more haunting twist. It’s equally mellow but with a darker, more unsettling vibe, as shown when Luce sings lyrics like “Bathed in holy water / Before I spoke your name.” Though neither song is a highlight of the album, they are both worthy background tracks that would blend seamlessly into any understated occasion.
The album’s slower ballads — namely “Somehow” and “Stones” — are less memorable but beautiful nonetheless. Luce’s classical music background — a result of her conductor mother and master’s degree in viola — become clear in “Somehow,” adding depth to the musical narrative. Along with the backdrop of strings, her rich, smooth vocals shine through in both ballads. The lyrics of “Stones” especially — “I’ll tell you all my secrets / They weigh me down like stone” — are a heartbreaking and emotional low of the album’s story. The ballads showcase Luce’s technical knowledge and talent and are sure to be appreciated by true musical connoisseurs, but they are not particularly compelling listens in themselves.
The record is wrapped up gorgeously with “Just the Same.” Heart-wrenching lyrics — “I left, you stayed / Our separate ways / One swift embrace / A little out of tune”— are layered on a beautiful piano composition. As a welcome bonus, the bridge gives Luce an opportunity to flaunt her impressive vocal range. The final words, “I will love you just the same,” end the record on an uplifting note.
“Dark River” is an immersive, enamoring and graceful collection that encapsulates the release of a relationship. Both sonically and lyrically rich, Luce’s emotional new album is a healing and captivating recipe for heartbreak recovery.