Formed back in 2010, the acclaimed Baltimore-based dream pop act Lower Dens can trace its origins to when its primary songwriter and founding member Jana Hunter had grown tired of touring and decided to take a hiatus. For what was supposed to be their final tour as a solo artist, Hunter recruited a backing band which featured Geoff Graham, Abram Sanders and Will Adams. Finding that playing with a band was much more enjoyable to them than playing as a solo artist, helped Hunter form Lower Dens. “During that tour, I realized that it wasn’t the touring life that I hated, but more so that the kind of music I wrote as a solo artist wasn’t something I felt entirely comfortable sharing in performance setting. Lower Dens then was the eventual result of the decision to make music with the specific intention of sharing and enjoying it with others,” Hunter said at the time.
Lower Dens’ full-length debut, Twin Hand Movement was released to critical praise from the likes of Pitchfork, who compared Hunter’s vocals to those of PJ Harvey and Beach House’s Victoria Legrand and Dusted Magazine, who praised the album’s lyrics for being “delivered without irony, yet self-aware enough to appreciate the obviousness.” While touring to support Twin Hand Movement, the band began writing on the road — but the limitations of writing on the road forced Hunter to work through a laptop and keyboard rather than a guitar, which lead to an increasing presence of synths on what would become their sophomore album Nootropics.
After they completed the tour to support Twin Hand Movement, the band chose to record their sophomore album at The Key Club Recording Company in Benton Harbor, MI. Hunter cited the studio’s remote location as an imperative part of the writing and recording process. Geoff Graham added that the amount of time spent in the studio allowed them to add extra dimensions to the material to make it lusher and thicker. Largely influenced by Kraftwerk‘s Radioactivity, Fripp and Eno and David Bowie‘s production on Iggy Pop‘s The Idiot, Nootropics was released to critical praise from the likes of Pitchfork. Rolling Stone and Spin.
Building upon a growing profile, Lower Dens opened for Beach House and indie rock legends Yo La Tengo at the Baltimore stop of the legendary act’s 2013 Fade tour. The following month, they released “Non Grata” on a split 7″ with Baltimore-based band Horse Lords, an effort that was released as part of the Famous Class LAMC series, which benefited VH1’s Save The Music Foundation.
2015 saw the release of the band’s third album Escape from Evil, which continued a run of critically applauded albums. Since then the band has gone through a series of lineup changes — with the band now being a duo featuring its founding member and primary songwriter Jana Hunter and Nate Nelson. And during that period, the members of Lower Dens had been working on their highly-anticipated follow up to Escape from Evil, The Competition.
Released last September through their longtime label home Ribbon Music, the album is a pop album with an emotionally and politically urgent concept at its core. Competition, by design is the driving force of modern capitalism and the title is Hunnter’s term for a socio-psychological phenomenon that competition generates — a kind of psychosis that accelerates and amplifies our insecurities and anxieties to the point of overload. And as a result our intimacies, our communities and even our senses of self are corroded and distorted. “The issues that have shaped my life, for better or for worse, have to do with coming from a family and a culture that totally bought into this competitive mindset. I was wild and in a lot of pain as a kid; home life was very bleak, and pop songs were a guaranteed escape to a mental space where beauty, wonder, and love were possible. I wanted to write songs that might have the potential to do that.”
Last year, the members of Lower Dens opened for hit-making act Of Monsters And Men, and they’ll begin this year with a headlining tour to support the album that starts on February 13, 2020 and includes a March 19, 2020 stop at Music Hall of Williamsburg. (You can check out the rest of the tour dates below.) In the meantime, the album’s latest single, the glistening and propulsive “Hand of God” is centered around Hunter’s achingly expressive vocals, shimmering synth arpeggios and four-on-the-floor drumming and a rousingly anthemic hook. Sonically, the song bears a subtle resemblance to Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back” and Songs from the Big Chair-era Tears for Fears — but centered around feelings of arrogance, humility and shame.
“It’s like Cowboy Krautrock,” Lower Dens’ Jana Hunter says about the song in press notes. “Imagine a wild west adventure, like City Slickers with the star, a wealthy white man. He’s devised a way to conquer God. He has some kind of vaguely dangerous journey, then comes upon God and declares victory. In his hubris, he goes to shake God’s hand, at which time he is psychedelically humbled, his little brain imploding.”
Directed by Aaron Brown and Robby Piantanida, the recently released video, manages to employ a decidedly DIY approach with a bright psychedelic colors — with Hunter seeing the hands of God.