Three albums in, and Lower Dens have embraced synths. It’s a crowd-following move for sure, but on Escape From Evil, guitarist and lead vocalist Jana Hunter does a respectable job of making the sound her own. Lower Dens’ previous work has been big on atmosphere (the Krautrock-driven 2012 album Nootropics being the biggest testament to this) and here it remains; Hunter allows the songs shine through, and much of the album drips with a West Coast noir-pop feel.
The aptly-titled To Die in LA, the album’s lead track, lets some light in – it’s a steely, spiky, beat-driven track that’s surely to the closest Lower Dens will come to an outright pop hit. In short, it works. Elsewhere, whilst the comparisons between Hunter to Victoria Legrand’s voice are nothing new, they are brought to the fore on the pulsating Quo Vadis’s Beach House-meets-beach pop, a lilting track that encapsulates this new direction nicely. Ondine, meanwhile, benefits from an irresistible Chromatics-esque sheen.
Sadly though, the latter half of Escape From Evil yields diminishing returns, with the sludgy, drawn-out I Am The Earth as nondescript as its title might infer. It does, in fact, aptly reflect a nagging feeling that presides over much of the album – whilst the hooks are in place, and there’s an urgency to most of the tracks that was previously missing, it’s a touch too polished, too polite, too detached, to invoke much in the way of emotion. Lower Dens have always been consistent in one sense — there’s plenty to admire about them, but it’s hard to see many people falling in love with them. It all adds up to Escape From Evil being a highly pleasant, but for the most part, slightly unrewarding listen.