Lower Dens – Escape from Evil – Review

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

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Lower Dens front woman Jana Hunter makes for a commanding and intriguing physical presence.

Without even hearing their work, any conclusions drawn from Hunter’s authentic and queer androgyny which is currently best described as a Tracey Thorn and ‘Love is a Stranger’-era Annie Lennox hybrid, may indeed prove accurate.

Sonically, Escape from Evil and its eighties associations also continue with an overriding synth and guitar combo dominating every track. If all of this is beginning to sound worryingly retro-nostalgic, then be reassured that Lower Dens have no interest in re-living the past and contrivance plays no part in what is their third and most approachable album.

Nootropics, Lower Dens’ last album released in 2012, was ambitious and sombre and succeeded in creating a world where rules had been discarded and replaced by a dystopian chill. There were some great tunes that sparkled in Nootropics‘ shadows too, it may have been cerebral – the best tack is called ‘Brains’ – but repeated plays paid off with some surprisingly accessible melodies.

Escape from Evil then reflects the intent of its title, removing oneself from an unhealthy world, destructive people and cyclical patterns is never an easy option but Lower Dens seems determined to at least try an alternative and this is it. Warmer than before and much less abstract lyrically, Jana Hunter wants to make connections.

lower-ends-photo

‘Ondine’ and its remorseful promise of ‘I will treat you better, hold on‘ is emphasised by Hunter pulling on the vowel sound in ‘hold’ and the image created is that of an everlasting embrace for fear of letting go and the inevitable dread of rejection.

‘To Die in LA’ also plays with stretched out syllables and sounds, with Hunter’s graceful and often gender-mutating voice bringing to mind punk icon Siouxsie Sioux with a droll and unhurried phrasing style reminiscent of Bryan Ferry during Roxy Music’s ‘Avalon’ period.

‘Quo Vadis’ has New Romantic synths which are off-set by soulful guitars and a soaring repeat of the line ‘I wanna be with you alone,’ and the persistent edge created by the stabbing micro-string parts in ‘Electric Current’ only add to the tension behind Hunter’s plea of ‘I only wanna dance with you all night, on the street‘.

Escape From Evil has a dark and magnificent, Lynchian central core. ‘I Am the Earth’ with its ponderous bass part, its sporadic marching drum and with Hunter’s full-bodied and arrestingly beautiful vocals declare her constant state of negative stagnation ‘I am the earth and I turn, and as I spin I pull debris in….I will spin forever’.

This song, the only one of its kind here, seems as though it may have been a starting point for the album as the tracks on either side of it are lighter and more concerned with human relationships and psychical longing, but Lower Dens can’t help but acknowledge that the big struggles are never really that far away.

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