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Lower Dens Takes on 'The Competition'

Jana Hunter and Nate Nelson approach themes of politics and love through the mediums of entrancing vocals and instrumentation

<p>This album exemplifies the essence of how one would feel driving through a city late at night with the windows rolled down.&nbsp;</p>

This album exemplifies the essence of how one would feel driving through a city late at night with the windows rolled down. 

The self-proclaimed “dark nerds” of Lower Dens, a Baltimore-based indie duo, confront today’s tumultuous political landscape and the universal distance it creates between individuals through a wildly artistic medium. These deep sentiments are all expressed in the entrancing instrumental and vocal experience of their new album, “The Competition.” 

Although it begins with the common lament to a lover in search of mutual, undying affection, this theme is ultimately followed by a serious, one-sided discourse of the social disconnect plaguing today’s society. Members Jana Hunter and Nate Nelson utilize this album to also explore the sounds of upbeat pop, slow ballads and the signature electronic pulse of the 80s. This album is a continuation of their desire for realness and verity expressed in the beloved 2016 single “Real Thing,” also included as a track on “The Competition.”

This album asserts Lower Dens’ unique ability to incorporate a variety of different genres and sounds while upholding a consistent, sonic aesthetic, mainly dominated by the exceptional vocals of lead singer Jana Hunter. The general simplicity of their instrumentation allows for the unparalleled purity of Hunter’s voice to dominate each track with confident ease. However, this vocal prowess does not completely overpower their remarkable instrumentation, but instead balances it to create a cohesive and complimentary dichotomy.

“The Competition” is marked by a myriad of standout tracks that all remain distinct in their own way. “Two Faced Love” begins as a sparse, sonic landscape mainly dominated by drawn-out vocals and a simple, seemingly faraway guitar riff. This builds to all-encompassing instrumentation that invokes a sense of melancholic strength in the listener. The blatantly controversial track, “Young Republicans,” brings to light Hunter’s distaste for republican youth. The song critiques those who have a desire to adopt the safety of monetary privilege, while metaphorically enjoying tasting “the burning flesh of men.” If it wasn’t already clear, the song has plenty more vivid images that invoke political divisiveness. “Simple Life” contains frantic instrumentation that could be interpreted to represent the often chaotic state of life in today’s world, whether it be in the face of failure to conform to social norms or general political discontent.

Prior to the release of “The Competition,” Jana Hunter cited their ongoing gender transition and a discouraging battle with mental health as reasons for the band’s halted creation of music. As stated in Lower Dens’ Spotify biography, Hunter says, “I’ve been going through both medical and social transitions, from living as a woman to a non-binary person and now toward the other end of the binary.” The track titled “Lucky People” seems to allude to Hunter’s strength in transitioning as well as the perceived difficulties it may have presented along the way. “I never thought that I’d meet somebody like me / Somebody so good they could make me feel safe in my skin.” The song appears to channel the innate need for connection.

In stark contrast to the other pieces on the album, “In Your House” is an extremely downbeat slow song that showcases the exceptionality of Jana Hunter’s voice by taking a step back from the synthetic, guitar-laced soundscape of the previous ten songs. “In Your House” ultimately ends the album on an extremely real and raw note, continuing the trend of compelling emotion “The Competition” is so heavily saturated with. This album exemplifies the essence of how one would feel driving through a city late at night with the windows rolled down, frigid air caressing their cheeks and providing them with a cheesy, movie-like lust for life. Had this album existed in the 1980s, John Hughes would’ve wept.