Published Sep 03, 2019A lot can change in four years — just ask Lower Dens. Since releasing their acclaimed third album Escape From Evil in 2015, the Baltimore dream pop outfit led by vocalist Jana Hunter downsized to a duo and completely revamped their sound. Gone are the kosmische grooves and sprawling structures of the band's 2012 breakthrough Nootropics; owing more to Bronski Beat than Beach House, The Competition offers a dance-pop diatribe against the combativeness of modern capitalism.
It also boasts some of Hunter's most direct songwriting to date. While their older lyrics could be oblique, the meaning of their new material is obvious even for casual listeners. Take "Young Republicans," which coats a bitter rebuke against the American aristocracy's persecution complex in synth-pop confection. Messages of love and acceptance in trying times are readily apparent throughout the album, be it in the steely resilience of "Empire Sundown" or the Balearic breeze of opener "Galapagos."
As inspiring as Hunter's words may be, their music rarely offers enough energy to truly satisfy. Lower Dens used to temper their languor with grandiose choruses and unforgettable hooks, both of which are absent from straightforward tracks like "Hand of God" or "Buster Keaton."
Ultimately, The Competition is most affecting when Hunter's pensiveness shines through. "Two Faced Love" builds emotion gradually, while the restrained production of "Real Thing" and "In Your House" highlight their vulnerable delivery. The Competition may be Lower Dens' most accessible album, but its best moments come when the band slow down and strips back their sound. (Ribbon)