Jana Hunter & Lower Dens

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Jana Hunter: Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom (2005), 5/10
Jana Hunter: There's No Home (2007), 5/10
Twin-Hand Movement (2010), 6.5/10
Nootropics (2012), 7/10
Escape from Evil (2015), 5.5/10
The Competition (2019), 4.5/10

Baltimore-based, but Texas-born, singer-songwriter and Devendra Banhart's collaborator Jana Hunter (a female at birth) debuted solo with the lo-fi Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom (2005) that collects brief songs (with virtually no arrangement) recorded over a decade, followed by the similarly spartan There's No Home (2007), containing 15 brief country elegies, notably There's No Home, Babies and Bird.

Hunter then formed the Lower Dens with Abram Sanders on drums and Geoff Graham on bass. Their first album, Twin-Hand Movement (Gnomonsong, 2010), was highlighted by several emotional peaks in the vein of the new wave of the 1970s: the psychedelic litany I Get Nervous, the anthemic A Dog's Dick with its noisy guitar coda, and Completely Golden, that harks back to the dream-pop of the Cocteau Twins. Blue and Silver sounds like Lou Reed fronting Suicide, and the frenzied instrumental Holy Water revives the charge of the Velvet Underground's Sister Ray. Unfortunately, the last songs on the album are embarrassing filler, probably added only to make it an album as opposed to a mini or an EP.

Nootropics (2012), with Nate Nelson on drums instead of Sanders and with the addition of guitarist Will Adams and keyboardist Carter Tanton, is an album of somnolent melancholia. Alphabet Song blends cheap beatbox, synth carillion and languid Hawaian guitar and slowly floating vocals a` la Grace Slick in an atmosphere reminiscent of the Doors' Strange Days. A similar structure propels the tender lulling melody of Nova Anthem, soaring over droning keyboards, to otherworldly dimensions. The liturgy of Brains is whispered over a tapestry of trembling guitar drones and a frantic drumming pattern. The brief instrumental Stem seems to be a jovial version of Neu or a Bach fugue played at triple speed. Too many songs abuse the format of the doom dirge (for example Propagation), but the 12-minute tour de force of In The End Is The Beginning, a slowly pulsating derelict litany amid deranged guitar noise, stages a sinister ritual a` la The End that dead-ends in a lugubrious soundscape of fear.

Escape from Evil (Ribbon, 2015), a vastly inferior work despite the mainstream production, had too many songs that were derivative of synth-pop of the 1980s, starting with Ondine and To Die in L.A. (whose wavering synth lines and refrain recall A-Ha's hit Take On Me), and too many doom & gloom dance-ballads like Your Heart Still Beating and Quo Vadis The best songs seem like accidents: Non Grata, that couples the guitar pattern of the Fleetwood Mac's Tusk and a poppy refrain, and especially Company, another sublime blend of operatic vocals, church organ, Neu-style motorik beat and psychedelic distortion.

With Hunter now relocated to Los Angeles, the Lower Dens lost much of their magic on The Competition (2019). The pulsating Two Faced Love creates tension that never gets resolved like Pet Shop Boys without the hooks and without the melodrama. The dreamy vocals and electronic dance beat of Galapagos evoke (yet again) British dark synth-pop of the 1980s a` la Joy Division but most of the album is devoted to lame ballads such as Real Thing (a 2016 song).

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