Compelling and immersive
Lower Dens - Live At The Lexington, London

Nootropics - intelligence-enhancing chemicals - lend their name to Lower Dens’ recently-released second album, and it’s precisely within this mental sphere, rather than any emotional or physical one, that tonight’s performance does its best work.

But first, Lower Dens band member Carter Tanton takes to the stage, equipped with a twelve-string acoustic guitar, some effects and a loop pedal. With these, and a later switch to an electric guitar, he constructs some fascinating sonic landscapes, accompanied by his voice, sometimes also electronically modified. As his set goes on these creations become increasingly experimental, and he crosses a fair amount of territory in the process.

Lower Dens follow, with Jana Hunter at the helm. Guitars and keyboards abound, as do serious faces on all of the members of this five-piece. The opener is 'Rosie', from debut album ‘Twin-Hand Movement’. A bass guitar drone sets the scene, from which some clearer notes from Hunter’s guitar begin to emerge. It’s a track that opens with the dreamier, more pensive side of the band’s spectrum, but then abruptly breaks, with a driving drum beat and an almost-comforting blanket of fuzzy guitar sound. It’s a solid and confident start, and one that shows off Hunter’s voice to best effect. The band continues in this vein for a while longer, before 'Propagation', off the new album, ushers in a more somber, darker mood. It’s endlessly patient, mesmerisingly so, as Hunter slowly sings: “Population incandescent, all roads lead here.”

And then it’s time for album single 'Brains', instantly likeable – almost catchy – and very, very good. From the driving, relentless drum beat throughout, to the strange electronic noises added like seasoning to the middle section of the track, it’s all brilliant.

There’s no doubt that Hunter is the centre of this band, but it’s the interaction between her voice and that of bassist Geoff Graham that is one of the most successful elements of this performance. The two exchange high and low parts effortlessly, yet remain distinct enough from each other to both really contribute to the dense, complex sound being created.

The band isn’t static either, exchanging instruments as needed, each contributing to the creation of a vivid atmosphere throughout, with many interesting moments along the way. Hunter herself switches from guitar to keyboard during the set.

There’s little by way of between-track banter, which means very little to interfere with this vivid, and quite bleak picture that Lower Dens paints. One of the few times that Hunter speaks is to introduce 'Alphabet Song', a track that offers a marginally lighter, gentler few minutes than much of the set.
The evening’s closing track, 'In The End Is The Beginning' is an epic, glacial number, hypnotic as it slowly, inexorably builds to far more of a crescendo than it does on the album. Hunter has time at one point to stroll backstage, return to sing a few lines, and then leave again. She returns only to say goodnight, concluding just over an hour of performance.

On the whole, it’s been compelling and immersive. It may not be overtly moving or emotional, but it’s impressive, cerebral stuff.

Words by Clinton Cawood
Photo by Ben Meadows

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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