Lower Dens: The Competition (Ribbon Music) - Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019  

Lower Dens

The Competition

Ribbon Music

Sep 27, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


The end of Lower Dens' video for "Young Republicans" shows a scene of people in red suits in a red room eating Jana Hunter's insides. Before getting eaten by the rich, Hunter, visibly transgender in a glitter jacket and crew cut hair, sings "we lift our heads and see that the world is burning." Doors are being locked, and blinds are being closed in broad daylight.    

The Competition (the fourth Lower Dens album) comes four-and-a-half years after Escape From Evil, and Hunter, the singer (who goes by the pronoun they), says this is the first time they have been fully representative of transgender. Hunter says that their voice is changing—although, The Competition retains their soothing yet strong coo—as humanity gets in the way of image. "As an artist, you do want to have control of how people see you," Hunter explains in an Under the Radar interview about the album. "I feel exposed; not bad or good, but a risk that is barely calculated. If you be more yourself, you might get a better life."

Existence can be a gamble, and "Young Republicans" is urgent enough to make a listener anxious, but the single might be the weakest track on The Competition. This means that Lower Dens has made a good new album. Lower Dens is not a band that has to stretch too far for brainy, steely, atmospheric electronic pop, but latent rage is expressed in the absurdity of "Young Republicans." Hunter says that they came from a large family, and some people in the family are valid, upper class Republicans. "But some are living real modest lives, too. Me being trans, it's hard; some don't want me being trans out of fear for my soul...I can't fault them for that."    

The Competition feels like a protest record. It conveys the message of living a full, unafraid life, the life that we chose, through forward-thinking electronic pop. Bright music, but emotional lyrics from Hunter: "It surrounds you, and its fingers feel as though it goes right through you" ("Hand of God"); "I love you, but it's not enough/I wanna dance with an abandoned" ("Real Thing"); "I poked and bled and this is what you said/Do you need help?" ("Buster Keaton"); "Kill me or break me off/Life and death are one in the same/Fuck me and wear me out, bring me to the edge of death" ("Simple Life"); and "Everything I ever dreamed I see in your eyes" ("Lucky People").

Lower Dens might be more of a mature art project than a band. Hunter and Nate Nelson are now wholly authentic and complex, using drums, synthesizers, guitars, accordion, French Horn, trumpet, bassoon, and flute to provoke compassion and self-examination. Bands don't have to change, but they do have to grow; we can still dance to Lower Dens, and the cymbals still sound great. Lower Dens' electronics lift to outer space ("Galapagos" and "Two Faced Love"), but they can go underwater, too. "Real Thing" vibes on The Antlers, who have been absent since Lower Dens released its previous album.   

The Competition has steady beats, zig-zagging undercurrents, a synth stuttering through a disco tube ("Simple Life"), and a plodding, jazz piano close out ("In Your House"). Society has a mindset of competition through capitalism, and Hunter says that we're all fighting for imagined, limited resources. "Capitalism is a weird disease," says Hunter. "It's hard to live an authentic life full of encouragement. You have to earn your existence and fight." (www.lowerdens.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10



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