By Margaret Price
Texas-born Jana Hunter has been all over the musical map. In addition to being a classically-trained violinist and the first person to release an album on Gnomonsong, a record label run by Devendra Banhart and Vetiver’s Andy Cabic (her 2005 solo debut album Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom), over the years she has performed and recorded as a member of Jracula, Castanets, Indian Jewelry, Phosphorescent and CocoRosie. Hunter’s latest incarnation, Lower Dens, a Baltimore-based quintet, sees her trading in her violin for a guitar and rounding out the band with a talented group of musicians and producer Chris Coady, who produced two Beach House albums to date, Teen Dream and Bloom.
But don’t think of them as a Beach House knockoff. Yes, the two bands’ Baltimore roots, vocal similarities (Hunter and Beach House frontwoman Victoria Legrand are almost indistinguishable) and gauzy, shoegaze melodies draw them comparisons, but where Beach House lives in the realm of whitewashed dream pop, Lower Dens explores darker, nightmarish New Wave territories.
Playing to a crowded room at The Earl, Lower Dens followed Alan Resnick and No Joy, getting a rather late start well after 11 p.m. Primarily drawing from tracks off of their dreamy sophomore album, Nootropics, the band filled out the rest of their set with songs from their stunning 2010 release, Twin Hand Movement. As they took the stage, shimmering reverb atmospherics washed over the crowd as the band launched into the bassline-heavy “Lion In Winter Pt. 1” followed by ”Lion In Winter Pt. 2,” which drifted out of the ambient fog. As the show progressed, Hunter vacillated between guitar and her perch behind the eponymous Korg synthesizer that has been known to give Lower Dens their droning hypnotic sound.
Their live rendition of “Propagation” prompted one zealous audience member to shout “Play it again!” Hunter replied with a monotonous “It’d be so weird if we played it again” and launched into a story about being at a Ween show when a similarly zealous audience member asked the same thing, and the band obliged. An aside later, the band went into the hazy guitar swirl of “Lamb” and a few other tracks from Nootropics. The set closed, appropriately, with the cathartic release of “In the End Is the Beginning,” a 12-minute reverb-stripped ode, as Hunter sang “I feel different now than I did before.” For all of us in the audience who were there from the beginning, we did too.
Lion In Winter Pt. 1
Lion In Winter Pt. 2
A Dog’s Dick
I Get Nervous
In the End is the Beginning