by Stephanie Holstein ’18
While some may worry that a musician’s second album is at risk of making or breaking his or her career, I disagree. Most of the time, it feels as if a band’s sophomore album is usually more in the same style as the first, giving it the potential to be just as likable. It is the third album when a band begins to take risks and deviate from the sound it has become known for. This is the case for Lower Dens’ Escape from Evil and while the album has a feeling of nostalgia for Dens’ past, more mellow tone, all of the rudimentary elements of this Baltimore band are very much present and even emphasized in its latest release.
Adopting a more punchy, ’80s pop style, the band covers a wide range of subjects—from love ballads of unrequited desire to empowering songs of independence—in a light and airy fashion just in time for spring. Part experimental psychedelic, part ambient, Lower Dens’ opening song “Sucker’s Shangri-La” pulls you in with slow and savory guitar riffs reminiscent of the opening of a Best Coast song. Yet, once frontwoman Jana Hunter begins to sing, her dark, deep voice washes over you like a tidal wave, and you remain under her spell until the album is almost over.
Her spell is broken a little over halfway through Escape from Evil, as it feels as if Lower Dens front-loaded the album with the more visceral, impactful songs, resulting in a lackluster ending. While listeners today are more likely to skip around the album, I decided to first listen in the order the band has chosen. By the time I reached “Non Grata,” the sixth track on the album, I was already wishing to go back to some of the my early favorites such as “Ondine” and “To Die in L.A.” However, this issue is very much on the surface and cannot discredit the general perfection of Escape from Evil, as each of the 10 tracks offer something special to the album.
While Lower Dens always does an impeccable job matching its lyrics to the perfect sounds, Escape from Evil may be the band’s best work yet in this regard. The electronic, synthesized keyboard and guitar highlight an urgency, as if Hunter is looking right through you—beyond you—and asking if you can relate to the triumphs and heartbreaks she sings about. However, do not mistake this trait for something formulaic or expected. Rivaling the more traditional instruments of the band as the most versatile, her voice fluctuates in a matter of seconds, taking a song that could easily be sung in a more conventional way into a strange, unpredictable direction, most notably in “To Die in L.A.” I always forget that the voice can be referred to as an instrument within itself, but Hunter reminds me of its power. This uncertainty that surrounds Lower Dens’ sound is what has kept me around for the past three albums, and will most certainly have me hooked for three more.
Here are a few songs off of Lower Dens’ new album, “Escape from Evil.”
“To Die in L.A.”