Baltimore’s Lower Dens are built around the songwriting and voice of frontwoman Jana Hunter, known to many for her early association with Devendra Banhart and her two solo LPs of gorgeous, shadowy avant-folk and country. Twin-Hand Movement, her new band’s debut LP, isn’t totally out of leftfield in light of her earlier work — many of their basic compositional and tonal concerns remain intact within the full-band framework — but it’s certainly a creature of another species. Most obviously, there are some new referents, in shades of post-punk and shoegaze. The Dens are decidedly electric, and there’s an attention to atmosphere and textural arrangement in their dual-guitar attack that emerges fully formed here.
But there’s something more intangible about Twin-Hand Movement that truly sets it apart from Hunter’s solo material: chemistry. A traditional four-piece (two guitars, bass, drums), the Dens are a formidable unit. The record feels compelled by an underlying momentum derived from the delicate balance of musical symmetries and tensions, the lifeblood of any good band. The group seems to lock in with ease, and all of the players confidently cover their bases without stepping on one another’s toes.
With Hunter and Will Adams sharing guitar duties, Twin-Hand Movement is packed with striking leads, clever interplay, and raw, fluid tones. Memorable six-string moments abound — the snarling call and response in the back half of “A Dog’s Dick;” the double lead give and take on “Holy Water;” the simple, low-burning lead that dissolves into a stew of gurgling distortion on “Completely Golden” — and the textural landscapes are deep and many-hued. It wouldn’t be off-base to characterize the LP as a ‘guitar record’ if the Dens’ rhythm section weren’t also noteworthy: Abram Sanders on the drums and Geoff Graham on the bass provide an understated, unshakable backbone. And while the parts are never flashy, the duo develops a neat, propulsive pocket that’s essential to the band’s sound.
Twin-Hand Movement is not the sort of album that bludgeons or barks or cries out for attention. There’s no gimmickry here, no put-ons, and not much in the way of sudden movements or curveballs. The album offers something much sturdier: 39 consistent minutes of clear-eyed, unassuming, poignant rock craftsmanship that’s easy to return to over and over again.