Somewhere across town, a throng of exceptionally well-put-together hipsters and “youth” were throwing their flannel selves around to local media darlings Japandroids. Meanwhile, at the Media Club, an entirely different group of hipsters, respectably bespectacled art types, gathered for Baltimore’s Lower Dens. I’d call it a draw if I hadn’t seen the ‘droids before, and if I didn’t think the Lower Dens were FULL OF WIN.
The gig came with extras: an odd but funny pre-opener-opener by New Yorktimore comedian Alan Resnick, who has a thing for his own face and has built a rubbery avatar to whom he speaks and riffs off of. On stage dressed like a nerd (or a New Yorktimore hipster, hard to tell) with a headset on, he took pains to explain how and why he built this avatar of his own face, with much the same enthusiasm as a Skyrim character ready to take an arrow to the knee.
Following that came a shoe-facing, yet somehow frontal assault of fuzz by Montreal’s No Joy, doing their best Swervedriver impersonation. Decent bass and the drummer’s a monster – and in
this case, sort of literally. He was wearing a monster mask and sweating buckets under it. But yeah, No Joy. No’ bad.
But let’s talk about Jana Hunter and her Lower Dens, shall we?
It didn’t start well. Hunter kept losing power to her keyboard, but it was soon rectified by the Media Club’s slightly bonkers metal-loving sound engineer and there it came, the analog-in-a-digital world Casiotones of “Lion in Winter Pt 2″ from amazing new album Nootropics. Woosh.
Hunter has this voice you can’t staple down. It soars on some tracks, growls on others as if she’s channeling a new wave goth queen on the cusp of 1980, and dips low, murmuring guy-like. Songs are this weird combination of expansive and full, mixing intricate guitar or minimalist drones. It’s rich and, thank gods, a little weird. Think Side 2 of Bowie’s Low, some Eno, mixed with (early era) Cure guitar and the Cocteau Twins, circa Garlands. Amazing right? It’s easy to get thrown off, here. It’s sort of through the wardrobe, Mr. Tumnus, Ice Queen, Aslan music. In 1981.
Highlights? Handfuls. Ultimately, “Brains” into “Stem”, the former tense and dense, and the latter, with a riff reminiscent of “Nova Heart” by Toronto band The Spoons.” And most of Nootropics got an airing. In ”Alphabet Song”, I desperately wanted to sing along, but in French, “Candy” sounded like a mournful theme song to a fucked-up Western, and “Propagation” had the moody Wye Oak thing going on. “Rosie” and “A Dog’s Dick” (played after a shout-out from the audience) from debut Twin Hand Movement, were perfect, if a little lighter.
Add to that the skittish and mesmerizing patterns of drummer Nate Nelson against the impossible-to-shoot-in backdrop projections, the fleshing-out guitar and vocals of Will Adams and anchoring bass of Geoff Graham, and the Lower Dens were, quite frankly, wonderful to get lost in. \m/