By: Jack Stein
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Perhaps androgynous vocalists & purveyors of “difficult” music are simply having their moment right now. Just as Merrill Garbus’ tUnE-yArDs are earning much-belated buzz after topping the likes of the Pazz & Jop year-end polls for 2011, Lower Dens, the project of the similarly gender-defying Jana Hunter, are rearing their head again after taking last year off following the stellar Twin-Hand Movement LP from 2010.
While Garbus’ odes to tormented sexuality & the human body are relayed by way of African polyrhythms and wild percussive madness, Hunter’s Baltimorean band takes a vastly different route, opting instead for the kraut-rock chug of Cryptograms-era Deerhunter and melding it with the haunting vocal affectations of another fantastic band from their hometown, the similarly unsettlingly beautiful Wye Oak. This synthesis forges a perfect compromise between the two aforementioned acts, tempering the harsh morbidity of the former with a dash of calming femininity of the latter that, as brilliant as they are, Deerhunter sorely lack.
For anyone who found Twin-Hand Movement‘s languid pacing and oft-stark production a bit too raw for their liking, the locomotive drum fills and metronomic bass progression that “Brains” (from their forthcoming LP this May) kicks off with should be music to their ears. Even if you loved Lower Dens’ last project, this thing is another battered, beautiful beast entirely, with Hunter’s pained intonations serving as a counterfoil to that ever-chugging rhythm section. When the whole thing feels ready to collapse during the coda, the wounded synths kick in, and that familiar beat surges one last time, you feel as if driving down some abandoned highway after nightfall with this longing track as your only companion would be the only proper way to do it justice. A Must-Listen.