Music Reviews
The Competition

Lower Dens The Competition

(Ribbon) Rating - 7/10

In The Competition, Lower Dens' defiant return after a four-year absence, lead songwriter Jana Hunter questions the fantasy of a capitalist utopia—how much do we have to fight to earn our happiness rather than find it within ourselves, and how it disconnects us from one another. Closely following 2015's Escape from Evil—which found Hunter exploring the more escapist sounds of eighties electro-pop—the songs on his fourth album (Hunter is now only joined by drummer/multi-instrumentalist Nathaniel Nelson) use a surfeit of synthesizers and icy sequencers with even more abandon.

Hunter bares more of himself than ever before, laying out his pessimistic view of how things currently stand instead of providing a false sense of hope. Both Young Republicans and Empire Sundown directly address those whose power derives from their wealth—and how they suppress the vulnerable—on which he remains cautiously hopeful of what the future holds in store over jaunty, life-affirming synths fit for the end credits to a John Hughes film. But Hunter also lays the politics aside to reflect on more personal matters, whether it's enduring unrepairable relationships (Two-Faced Love), learning to cope with his true sexuality (Buster Keaton), and openly ruminating on how parental figures struggle to adjust to their queer relatives (I Drive). I Drive even embraces a top-40 radio sound, and it's stunning, a sharp contrast to Hunter's moody, listless vocal delivery.

Whereas Evil sounded like an attempt to wring pathos out of joyous pastiche, The Competition feels like the true metamorphosis of Hunter's life into art—both in sound and subject matter. He embraces a lush, widescreen sound with such vigor that even he can't keep up with, causing the album to lose some momentum as it settles into repetition. But Hunter's biting social critique is the focal point from start to finish, revealing his more vulnerable self in the process—a bold reinvention that should follow whichever direction he chooses to take from here on out.