Jana Hunter has helped make some of the most fascinating music of the past decade. Having joined in numerous collaborations — including a peripheral involvement playing with the legendary Houston noise/psych band Indian Jewelry as well as Sharon Van Etten and CocoRosie — she's contributed considerably to the world of accessible yet strange music. And as a singer with Lower Dens, which will perform at Larimer Lounge on Wednesday, July 29, she's collaborated on increasingly innovative and thought-provoking albums. There is an expansive, ethereal quality to many of the act's compositions, coupled with a headiness that gives them some weight without becoming heavy.
Music isn't the only way Hunter gives weight to ideas. She recently wrote an important piece on the nature of gender and the complexities of gender in everyday life in concrete situations, beyond the realm of theory.
The latest Lower Dens record, Escape From Evil, recalls the lush and dreamy yet vivid music of Marianne Faithful's classic 1979 album Broken English. What is perhaps most striking is the literary quality and rich conceptualization that seems to permeate the album's lyrics with titles like “Ondine,” “To Die in L.A.,” “Quo Vadis” and “Société Anonyme” — with an inversion of the most obvious interpretations of the meaning behind the cultural references to suggest a depth to the music.
“I can't remember really articulating this before," Hunter says, "but I feel like when you understand a thing, you also understand the opposite of that thing. You will never be as angry with anybody as you will with somebody that you really love. When you get really angry with them, it's a kind of more ferocious kind of anger because they're an extension of you and because you really care about them and you don't want to see them fuck up their lives or make some terrible decision or whatever it is. I feel like the same thing is true of these concepts.”
“'Quo Vadis' is the Latin translation of 'Where are you going,'” she continues. “I feel like anytime you're asking anyone, 'Where are you going with your life?' you're also asking yourself the same question. Those kinds of dualities have been important to me for a long time. Calling the [first Lower Dens] album Twin Hand Movement is the recognition of how in our lives the people we're most interested in, or that we encounter that are in our lives, whether they're strangers or familiar, we are mirrored in their movements. How we take care of ourselves is how we take care of them. Sometimes it's not exactly a mirror, but more two sides of a multi-sided object.”
Perhaps the most telling, however, is a song that slyly references Guy Debord's 1967 situationist classic Société du spectacle. “'Société Anonyme' is one of my favorites because I had the same misinterpretation that I think Dadaists who were American had and didn't understand the name,” muses Hunter. “It's just the French word for corporation. It's very ominous. In English it literally means 'anonymous society,' like the faceless mob we're all afraid of that controls us, but it actually means the corporation — but that, in my life and in the lives of many people I know, those are faceless people who control us. To me, there's stacking multiple meanings on top of one another. There's the magic, terror and joy in that complexity and how those meanings affect your life. When I'm able to step back and see those things from a distance, they become funny because they are so complex and terrifying, and what can you do but laugh? What can you do but laugh at how ridiculous that 'Société Anonyme' means corporation, but that directly translated into English, it means 'anonymous society.' That's deeply funny to me.”
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.