Matador are on a roll. They’ve introduced a neat model of picking up artists in the wake of breakthrough debut releases, subsequently reissuing and platforming said releases for a prospectively bigger audience, and then providing support and creative space for their gifted roster’s follow-up record. This methodology succeeded with Julien Baker’s Turn Out The Lights last year, and it’s certainly promising for Snail Mail’s (as yet unannounced) debut album (her Habit EP was the reissue). The pioneer of this prodigious triumvirate, Lucy Dacus’s debut No Burden was released in February 2016 after a hectic 10 hour recording session in which the then 20 year-old coordinated her full band arrangements live for the first time. That Summer, effectively following a bidding war for her signature, Dacus joined Matador and her debut was reissued – fortunately given how quickly the initial physical copies sold out – and over the latter months of 2016 news endemically proliferated of this talented and soulful musician. She, as they say, blew up.

Such is music media’s compulsion to categorise change as temporary, and its incapacity to appreciate what's ostensibly a paradigmatic shift to this new fixed reality of a women-dominated scene, that the past few years’ bustle of great women indie rock artists has been coined a “wave”. If it is a wave, of which I'm sceptical, there’s no indication it’s collapsing anytime soon; already this year we’ve enjoyed stellar releases from Anna Burch and U.S. Girls, and we anticipate imminent monsters from Soccer Mommy and Camp Cope. Lucy Dacus’s second album, Historian, is indelibly complicit in this, but its accessibility and scope underline it as one of the wave’s premier records, fitting snugly under that evergreen label “instant classic”.

Considering all that’s passed since No Burden’s initial release – and unlike with Baker’s Turn Out The Lights, which was conspicuously more carefully produced than her first record Sprained Ankle – little has changed in the dynamic of Dacus’s instrumentation. There’s a treasure trove of rich melodies and inventive arrangements, which vitally never diminish Dacus’s own guitar work. Although John Congleton – the prolific producer behind music from The Walkmen, The War On Drugs, Lana Del Ray, and Sigur Ros, to name just a fraction – has been commissioned, his influence is peripheral; rather, it’s Dacus’s perennial collaborator Jacob Blizard whose bearing is most pronounced, through his oft-pulverising guitar. He gamely offers tentative orchestration in brass and strings, but it’s Blizard’s amiable riffing that’s most loyal companion to Dacus’s insightfully uncertain rumination on time, and on how love and death contorts our evaluation of time, a masquerade of a break-up album.

Historian is categorically not a break-up album – a point Dacus has recurrently made clear this press cycle – but a loss album, of which break-up is ancillary and almost circumstantial. It’s contemplating how emotional trauma – whether grief, romantic dissolve, or something else entirely – discolours every interaction, thought, and feeling in its wake. Discolouring is revisionism, ahistorical, a disregard of what actually happened then and what actually matters now. As radiance gradually seeps back into life we more firmly enter our stations as historians. A historian is not someone infatuated with the past, but informed by it to better prioritise the present.

‘Addictions’ struggles with its own past infatuation, a clambering over toxic relationships and the way the participants justify its toxicity suffocating in its luscious aroma; “Was I a risk without reward or did I make you proud?/ Now I’m awake at 2am/ Without cause to draw you in.” ‘Night Shift,’ as a red herring opener, is an emphatic break-up ballad, riddled with sharp jabs and a truly soaring chantalong refrain in its final third; “In five years I hope these songs feel like covers/ Dedicated to new lovers.” Much of the album constitutes an anthology, or a series of overlapping vignettes, which interrogate love, death, and the underpinning inevitability of loss which ties them. Break-ups histrionically imitating the death of love is one thing, but what truly haunts Dacus – as depicted in a theoretical view in ‘Yours And Mine,’ and in a lover entreaty to let Dacus go gently into that good night on ‘Timefighter’ – is the literal death of love, the unconscionable knowledge that that person you love, and worship, and fundamentally and wholly like for who they are, will be vacuum. What’s the value of those love songs and heart-spilt Valentines cards then, the historical records, but as hollow audio and empty ink.

If ‘Night Shift’ is an apt prologue, then ‘Historians’ is a monolithic denouement, and not unfeasibly a different conversation with the same nameless, heart-breaking villain of that opener; “If past you were to meet future me/ Would you be holding me here and now?” Or could it be Dacus confronting herself, time and mortality eroding our own sense of self and self-love? The veritable dictionary of one-liners function as affecting aphorisms – “Too deep inside my head/ Too far outside my skin” is a viable tattoo for sure – but cumulatively they form a self-portrait, where even the songs detailing other people blush in Dacus’s own image through their witty insights and frugal wordplay, as in the ‘Nonbeliever’ line “You deal in unspoken debt”; witheringly precise, yet its character is fully drawn.

This is all engineered by Dacus’s alto voice, a croon as adept at tranquil narration as surgical incisions into your cardiac muscle. The grandstanding lead single ‘Night Shift’ is an exhibition, a measured assembly from timid murmur to towering squall, emboldened by meteoric guitar and her own starry-eyed exorcism. Inversely, the mortal dread and duelling compassion her pensive warble invokes in ‘Yours And Mine’ is eviscerating. Her voice is simultaneously authoritative in its convictions and storytelling, and endlessly inquisitive of how the world operates, a timbre of wryness, wisdom, and self-awareness beautifully accommodating to the exact same qualities of her verse.

Historian is a complete album, cavernous in its emotional depths and regally sophisticated in its songwriting, yet palatably relatable at the point of contact. It’s a work of perfectly realised ambition in which anyone who’s ever waded the swamp of heartache can recognise themselves. History is written by the victors and Lucy Dacus is a fucking champion.