Aug 05, 2010, 06:48AM

Jana Hunter's latest brilliance

Lower Dens' first LP, Twin Hand Movement, is a truly remarkable album.

In an indie rock climate currently consumed by schticky eclecticism, Baltimore's Lower Dens stand out for confidently and provocatively mining entry-level indie influences: the deliberate chug of the Velvet Underground, Cat Power in her noisy naïf phase, Joy Division's disco-punk in a dungeon style. But Jana Hunter and her band don't simply regurgitate underground rock classics; they approach these intermediate sounds from odd angles.

Two damaged, garage-rock instrumentals (“Holy Water” and “Completely Golden”) sandwich “I Get Nervous,” a confused, touching, almost love song (“Baby, I get nervous/Just being in your service”). “Rosie” noodles around for more than a minute before bass and drums enter the mix and once they do, Hunter's hesitant vocals frantically climb through the group's hazy, mass of sound. “Plastic and Powder” is a dubby, No-Wave-tinged composition stretched to its breaking point, building up, then simmering down to Fripp & Eno-like globs of ambient noise. It's a beautiful moment on an otherwise nervous and jittery album.

Nearly all of Twin-Hand Movement's elements appear to be directed towards the rewards of the album's final unimpeachable batch of songs: “Rosie,” “Truss Me,” “Hospice Gates,” and “Two Cocks.” The odd tension between Hunter and Will Adams' feedback-filled guitar work and the strangely alive rhythm section of drummer Abram Sanders and bassist Geoff Graham injects a menacing danceability into early tracks “Blue and Silver” and “A Dog's Dick,” but it really comes together on those later songs, particularly “Hospice Gates” and “Two Cocks.”

Then there's Hunter's voice, a feminine but never “girly” coo that hides in Lower Dens' murky mix all the way up until “Truss Me.” When the vocals do come in, relatively clear, it's disarming—all the more so because the sentiment of “Truss Me” is so damaged and ambiguous: “Someday, you will trust me/I guess it's inevitable.” Subdued singing is a bold choice for a former singer-songwriter, but it's strangely emotional—less a non-committal voice than one of wounded uncertainty—and it quietly informs fans of her solo work that she's now but one more part of a band.

Much of what makes Twin-Hand Movement so good though, is fairly ineffable. It's the odd combinations and jarring tensions of the record that keep it alive. This is a collection of songs that isn’t immediate or atmospheric, that dredge-up catchiness in strange, indirect places (the guitar interplay on “Tealights,” Hunter's mumbled melodies), and anchored by the sense of dread unique to the group.


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