Lower Dens

Escape From Evil

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"Suckers Shangri-La," the opening cut on the Jana Hunter-led, Baltimore-based experimental pop unit's third studio outing, wastes little time in getting down to the nuts and bolts of what Escape from Evil is aiming for. Sinewy and seductive, Hunter smooths out some of the rough edges of the band's previous guises, opting for a shimmery blast of pure Siouxsie Sioux-inspired, retro electro-pop that's as chilly as it is downright confectionary. "Ondine" more or less follows suit, though it eschews the latter's penchant for icy, late-'80s soundtrack pop in favor of a more subdued, though no less midnight-black ambience that invokes names like Anna Calvi, Beach House, and even Cat Power. Shades of Lower Dens' minimalist past appear relatively consistently throughout the album's just over-40-minute runtime, but they tend to materialize as breaths in between bigger pop moments; empty bridges with which to either populate or tear down. There's an ache behind these songs that belies their radio-ready packaging, but the band's steady Krautrock demeanor and Hunter's innate theatricality (think a measured amalgamation of Diamanda Galas, Annie Lennox, and Thin White Duke-era David Bowie) help to keep the darkness in check, and what ultimately shines through is sort of pure pop, albeit goth-tinged, elegance that paints everything in a sort of cool, 2:00 A.M. haze of cigarette smoke and dashboard-blue light. That pained, urban chic is best exemplified by Escape from Evil's lead single "To Die in L.A.," a propulsive blast of AOR synth pop symmetry that's as danceable as it is dripping with melancholy. It couldn't be further removed from the group's brooding, slow burn, lo-fi beginnings, but it carries a similar emotional weight. Hunter is an enigmatic presence, and even with the all of the new trimmings, her rich alto always rises to the forefront, carefully shepherding in the band's newfound sonic might with equal parts audacity and vulnerability.

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