Lower Dens Escape From Evil

[Ribbon; 2015]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: your favorite song, pop, torch song, new wave, kraut rock
Others: Light Asylum, Beach House, Future Islands, Twin Shadow, Nite Jewel, John Maus

Pleasure is always dissolving. It is everything-soluble. Ache settles like dust, unheralded. It coats us without weighing us down yet blurs our sense of purpose. Living in a realm where so much of the work at hand is working against our better judgement, it’s a wonder we can even glimpse what is pertinent. Want is need is want again. Nothingness itself becomes a virtue; we’re so insatiable. In the work is the release is the holding on and holding out. In the reflection is refraction. Our good side. Our bad side. Our delicious ambiguity. Our inedible contrarianism. Shadows cut a striking figure. Cold light of day cuts us down to size. Yearning without potential. Escapism as its own end. Making love last is costly. Dreaming is free. We are dead on our feet. Full of idea(l)s. Could we at least look dignified to one other?

Lower Dens is a good-looking band with alluring videos and covers and fonts. They aren’t afraid to feel the dread and do it anyway. They are empowered equally in their passion and in their disgust, deftly two-stepping their way into our fickle hearts without a sideways glance. Lead singer Jana Hunter possesses a voice both miniature and mammoth, ravaged by estrangement yet stoically reinforced in its pitiless orbit. She is the mighty earth and the lonely earth. The lovely, inevitable, impassive, and dogged. Striking out and slow-dance swaying with your tired old soul. Her band’s well-dressed melancholy is something fine, the miraculously cool fresh pillow you rise from and take to the grey skies with new resolve.

Lower Dens persist in their indelible aesthetic triumphs with Escape From Evil, another gleaming beacon of poise over posturing. Their albums are concise entremets that belie the substantial, like the best Stereolab records. And similarly to fellow reverbians Pure X, Lower Dens have both refined and reinvented themselves with every album: three down in five years and both bands remain essential, even as they blithely skate on the face of lite FM waters. In both cases, their latest platters could come off as mere retro fetishism to the passive or cursory listener, but for those who are riding for the feeling and refusing to let their tastes define them (even as they are undeniably dated by them), these songs are medicine. Over-the-counter, sweet, sad pop pills of the most delicate, side-effect-free alchemy available.

As such, these nine songs provide a brisk, temporary relief. There’s no “In The End Is The Beginning” for us to get swallowed up in. It consistently, concisely leaves us wanting more, almost vindictive in its ruthless economy. For all the advance talk of this being a more personal album, there has always been a focus on a specific person: Twin Hand Movement had “Rosie,” Nootropics had “Candy,” and this one has “Ondine.” There is also a recurring “you” that feels somewhat pointed, but the sleek production and danceable rhythms suggest otherwise. It’s redolent of the way we attach songs to our ideas about the ones we want rather than what they actually are. The lady in red is dancing with all of us, and there is nobody else in the world. It’s none of our business but all of our pleasure, and we nod universally in concert to this sultry oblivion because it just hurts so fucking good.

Escape From Evil, from the title on down, is actually quite a platitudinous affair (“Time will turn the tide,” “I will treat you better,” “I only want to dance with you all night”). Hunter is not mincing words, even as she and her band mates dive straight into an elegant soft-rock haze. It’s actually quite an audacious album; it’s just that it’s so well articulated as to come across as serviceable. It is vain, self-serious, and predictable, but endearingly so. It’s “an instant classic” in the most charming way left to that banal, once-ubiquitous pullquote. It’s smart enough to be the ride and the butterflies, letting the more exhaustive statements serve where and how they may. It is a swift, surgical heartbreaker, spinning with a deliriously brittle romantic abandon, like laps on a roller rink or the pitching and heaving of a Tilt-A-Whirl. The earth turns and throws light and shade, teeming with humanity, never losing its sturdy momentum. It diminishes and reappears with merciless efficiency. Simultaneously fleeting and fulfilling, like all the best songs. Pleasure centers can’t hold and sympathy can’t comfort. There is only movement. Only repetition. Only refinement. Lower Dens continue to keenly harness these absolutes with daunting finesse.

Links: Lower Dens - Ribbon

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