LOWER DENS

 

On Escape From Evil, Lower Dens’ Jana Hunter emerges: cerebral and hot-blooded, rash and incorruptible, and, crucially, possessing of a loud, clear voice. Hunter has united the strengths of her previous work, and Lower Dens have made their most musically coherent album to date.


With EFE, Hunter aims to “relate what it is to be a fucking human being, to relate the terror and joy and confusion of it.” These songs about love, death, recklessness, violence, fear, gender ambiguity, and guilt manage to encode something of the hustling, overburdened experience common to many of our lives. “Songs that people could rally around, I hope. Real truth-telling set to a good beat is real catharsis,” Hunter says. “Trying make sense of your life in a society that’s as static and screwed as ours can feel suicidal. Music is transformative. The human condition becomes fabric for stitching together something divine. I want people to feel new when they listen to this.”


Hunter stepping up and taking center stage has emboldened every other aspect of the band. Escape From Evil is a cinematic, tonally rich work. The sounds are clean and warm. The pulse of the album is strong. Melodies are potent and songs are physical. Lyrics are direct, frank confrontations with life’s common crises. The album title is brazen, and along with the grimly funny title of lead single, “To Die in L.A.”, almost theatrical. Lower Dens’ other members have always been skilled, but they appear here masterful and egoless; everything’s in the pocket.


Lower Dens’ 2010 debut, Twin-Hand Movement, was a stunning evolution of guitar brilliance and murky emotiveness, while its 2012 follow-up, Nootropics, was a stark, textured paean to experimental bands of the krautrock era. Some of their previous influences remain (Wire, Televison, Neu!), along with others that come to mind (Echo & The Bunnymen, early U2, The Smiths), but these influences never overwhelm the work of a band that is one of the few truly innovative groups in this corner of the music world. It’s difficult to name a single forebear for “Your Heart Still Beating”, a song Hunter describes as “raw grief” but which contains one of the album’s best beats and some of its finest guitar work. “Quo Vadis” (“a narcissist’s love song”) and “Non Grata” (“seduction and a suicide pact”) are, again, physical. Songs are by turn commanding powerhouses (“Sucker’s Shangri-La”) and controlled chaos (“Company”), and there is no filler.


On Escape From Evil, there are only songs into which this band and its formidable front person have thrown the whole weight of their musical ability, intellectual capacity, and emotional sensitivity. It is a bold, monumental step forward for a band we knew had it in them, and the welcome manifestation of a singer we’ve never quite seen until now.