It’s unfortunate that people have given Texan Jana Hunter the freak-folk tag, as clearly she’s done a lot to move beyond her early days, clearly trying to establish her own sound. We find her now leading the Baltimore group Lower Dens, and if you can look beyond her darkened voice, you’ll find that there are no remnants of folk on Twin Hand Movement.
“Blue and Silver” immediately begins to indicate that the sounds within the group’s album will fill up quickly with dense discord, sprawling in which ever direction Hunter leads the band. Metronome-like drumming keeps the pace steady, allowing for the guitars to seek out their own direction, cutting back and forth across the landscape of the song, all the while Hunter moves in and out to fill empty space with her voice. Arriving at “Tea Lights” you see some similarities with label-mates The Papercuts, especially in the way the pop element is darkened, leaving just enough room for melody to spring up. At times, Hunter’s lyrics aren’t necessarily decipherable, yet their appeal exists in the ability for them to alter the mood of the song. One listen to this track and you’ll gladly take a journey with Lower Dens.
While one might still complain about Hunter’s vocals, there are some performances on Twin Hand Movement that really demonstrate her range as a singer. “I Get Nervous” is quite the subtle number, barely moving along without the presence of high-hat and snare, but in the middle of the song Hunter takes complete control of the track. Something in the way she delivers in such an understated manner is extremely appealing, and she uses the song as a showcase for herself. You’ll find the same scenario on “Hospice Gates,” though the song does have the benefit of a bit more pacing in comparison. Ringing guitars provide the true backdrop to this track, leaving room for Hunter to give her best vocal performance, mostly based on the fact that the clarity is probably the strongest of all album tracks, excluding the slow-burner “Truss Me.”
Lower Dens is also willing to throw you some surprises in the mixture, utilizing the brooding track “Plastic and Powder” to give the listener a bit of a haunt if you will. There’s is an eerie quality here, perhaps in the way guitars seemingly bounce quietly in the background, or in Hunter’s dark croon as the song trickles passed. “Rosie” also has a far away feel to it, almost as if it’s meant to be a soundscape song, that is until you hit the 1:15(ish) mark. Steady drumming accompanied by the typical ringing guitars gives listeners the chance to hear a focused group in the midst of possibly their best work to date.
Twin Hand Movement lives up to the promise of lead single “Tea Lights.” Hunter’s vocals keep a sense of brooding throughout, but the guitar work as it pokes and prods in the listener’s brain keeps the you wrapped up in the wall of sound Lower Dens has created. If you’re in search of a dark-tinted album with ringing guitars that will echo in your bedroom, then I suggest you get on it.
Download: Lower Dens – Tea Lights [MP3]