When: Wed., Aug. 5, 8:30 p.m. 2015
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 5
KINGS, RALEIGH—Though she first came to view in the company of post-millennial longhair Devendra Banhart, Jana Hunter should have never been mistaken for a hippie. Her hair is now cropped short, but back when she had more, she never put flowers in it. Instead, Hunter—a wry, reticent Texan—projected a bit of lonely Dustbowl steel over her solo acoustic strums.
She's described Lower Dens, her band for the last five years, as a way to make her songs more powerful and less wrenching to perform. Their first two records leaned in to the darkness of her voice. On 2010's Twin-Hand Movement, the band kept the tempos slow and suffocating. Nootropics was nastier, with clockwork grooves rubbing raw against Hunter's plaintive singing. For the new Escape From Evil, Lower Dens systematically stripped the post-punk grime from Nootropics, remodeling it with the gleaming surfaces of '80s synth-pop. The increased illumination teases the nuances from Hunter's mysterious tone, like sunlight suggesting shapes in hanging smoke.
The move to a smooth pop center has done well for Lower Dens. The single "To Die in L.A." is their biggest, brightest moment to date, and it's racked up more than 1.5 million Spotify plays since an early spring release—a hit, by some measure. With the friction reduced, Lower Dens practically glide.
Even when she's out to connect, Hunter's songwriting still holds back. Her lyrics are more puzzle than map, cryptic fragments of lost love and inward recrimination that don't tell a story so much as allude to an emotional state. You don't leave a Lower Dens song with some thought of knowing Hunter's heart. That is why she dodged the singer-songwriter circuit in the first place. At this point in her career, eluding neat definitions has become her defining quality. With Young Ejecta. 8:30 p.m., $12–$14, 14 W. Martin St., Raleigh, 919-833-1091, www.kingsbarcade.com. —Jeff Klingman