Lower Dens: Twin Hand Movement
Circa 2005, Jana Hunter was being swept up/lumped into the then still-burgeoning world of "freak-folk" music, releasing her solo debut on head-freak Devendra Banhart's Gnomonsong label, its inaugural release even, and putting out a split record with the man himself. In 2007 arrived her endlessly satisfying There's No Home, a final solo songwriter outing of minimal guitar and voice-centric arrangements resting on languid and pretty melodies, her arresting and comfortingly weird vocals, and what feels like a supernatural sense of atmosphere and mood--what you might pin down as "walking at night in the woods."
In the three year interim, Hunter moved from Texas to Baltimore, re-emerging sometime in late 2008 or 2009 with a full band. Note that her solo stuff was often rounded out by drums or other guitars, but the four piece, now formally called Lower Dens, is a band band, maybe even a rock band. The songwriting is still core Hunter, a slow--even when its rather fast, tempo-wise--soundscape-y dreamstate that's not necessarily sad or even all that melancholy but, even with the ensemble, staring inward and alone but not lonely. Meanwhile, the music is fleshed out in every direction--and the result is drop dead lovely, the sort of minor songwriting coup that sits in your brain like a cool cloud.
"I Get Nervous" shows a band with a marvelous way of blending ambiance and structure, putting it somewhere near the hallowed place of late-'00s breakout Grouper. For that matter, it might help to image Lower Dens in a sonic place somewhere between Grouper and Wye Oak, but nicely worn at the edges and just dirtied up enough. The track moves organically and grows in crystalline swells of guitar atmosphere, like a slow-burning but out-of-control fire swallowing the things around it, a quick ticking of drums, and Hunter's laconic voice getting into a listener's spine like a valerian epidural.
"A Dog's Dick" pours things in from seemingly every direction--dueling, chiming guitar lines; a thick, bared bass line; a storm front of guitar jangle. That it all comes out in this potent singular voice is testament to how much of a band unit Lower Dens can be. The thick, reverberating guitars of "Completely Golden," allegedly an off-album Jana Hunter solo track, might make for murk in other hands, but here they are defiantly pretty, gamely playing off each other and supporting vocals--whose weirdness turns out to be a disarming, unaccustomed prettiness. There's enough diversity and ideas in the record and are all wonderful and often just perfect, that imagining what Lower Dens could grow to be is a very happy thing.