Lower Dens, Night Beds
Thursday, September 27
Russian Recording is a hard place to find. Hidden along S. Walnut Street -- home to a crusty tattoo parlor, a few auto-repair shops and Bloomington's best known strip club -- is a large house where notable releases by Bloomington heavyweights like Tammar, Apache Dropout, Stagnant Pools and Murder by Death were recorded by ace engineer Mike Bridavsky (Editor's note: Owner of the bonkers-cute Internet famous cat Bub). It's a hallmark of Bloomington's independent music scene. With its homey space and multicolored sound panels surrounding the stage, Russian Recording provided a perfect setting for Baltimore's Lower Dens, a band who doesn't create music so much as unveil ambient textures that soundtrack the sequestered feelings of our daily lives.
Lower Dens is fronted by Jana Hunter, a freak-folk artist who over the years released a string of home recordings and a split EP with Devendra Banhart. While Lower Dens bears little resemblance to Hunter's musical roots, the band has the folk quality of being epically personal -- they make music that fares well in both private bedrooms and giant cathedrals. Hunter, and the rest of the band, dress simply and make only the slightest movements on stage which renders their colossal sound all the more impactful.
Their set began with "I Get Nervous", a highlight from their first record Twin Hand Movement that features rapturous guitar lines swimming around a pulsing, minimal rhythm section. Hunter sings "Lady, I get nervous / Just a-being in your service / Words are full of indecision / They evince the troubled nimble wit." The song contains all the elements that make Lower Dens great: minimalist rhythms, soaring guitars and subdued vocal lines that create a sort of monolithic sonic texture. They're an intensely disciplined band -- channeling krautrock and Berlin-era Iggy Pop -- who rarely waste a single note and whose occasional improvisation seems to arise from purposeful meditation.
They continued with a set heavy on highlights from their latest release Nootropics, an album which explores human function in modern society and our relationship with technology. "Man walking forward forever/ Breaking the bough/ Finally feels the crush of gravity" Hunter sings on "Alphabet Song". And on "Brains" she coos "Do you believe/ No one is waiting/ Brains without names," as thick synth lines and ringing guitars are piled atop a robotic drum beat. Their sound filled the venue's airspace, creating an opaque sense of dread and disorientation that rendered the crowd motionless as they admired a group narrating the anxiety of modern life.
Night Beds followed Lower Dens like a reality TV show premiere after the Super Bowl. Their afterthought status wasn't their fault though; Lower Dens showed up late and appeared to have possibly forced Night Beds into a later slot. They played a strong set though, marked by soaring vocal harmonies and washed out lap steel guitar; a pleasant night cap after Lower Dens' ghostly show.