with Ami Dang

Songbyrd Presents
Downstairs, All Ages

DOORS: 7:00 PM // SHOW: 8:00 PM




Songbyrd Presents

Friday February 14, 2020


The Competition, the fourth album from Lower Dens, is a pop album with a concept both emotionally and politically urgent. The title is lead singer and songwriter Jana Hunter’s term for a sociopsychological phenomenon that, in different ways, binds us all. Modern capitalism by nature generates a kind of psychosis -- an inability to process its constant stimuli and contradictions -- that accelerates our insecurities and anxieties to the point of total overload, corroding our intimacies, our communities, and our senses of self. The Competition speaks, in various ways, to the necessity of “socially de-conditioning ourselves and learning how to be people,” Hunter says. “The issues that have shaped my life, for better or for worse, have to do with coming from a family and a culture that totally bought into this competitive mindset.”

Ranging in scope from the very personal to the expressly political, each song is linked by a theme that expresses the vital connection of one to the other. (In “Young Republicans,” right-wing monsters consume human flesh just as the wealthy cannibalize the lower classes; opener “Galápagos” gets at the miracle of creative self-sufficiency in the absence of material resources.) The lyrics are steeped in humor and visceral, sometimes grotesque imagery: “I stood there stupefied by your pretty face/And spitting blood onto your shirt and your pretty face/I said I might love you,” Hunter sings in “Buster Keaton.” In “Empire Sundown” -- about overthrowing the plutocrats -- they sing, “Look them in the eyes when they push you/Off the raft and make them watch you drown.”

Hunter was born in Texas, one of eight children in an insular, repressed Catholic family. In the early 2000s Hunter moved to New York, where they released two critically acclaimed solo records on the indie label Gnomonsong, started by Devendra Banhart and Vetiver’s Andy Cabic. These were sparse, introspective works, part of the artist’s overall effort to make sense, in a way, of who they were and where they had come from. In 2007 Hunter relocated to Baltimore, excited about its music and community. Forming Lower Dens was part of a conscious decision to make music within a social context. (“Why can’t we be with the ones we were made to love?” Hunter sings on “I Drive,” which expresses the seeming impossibility of feeling as though you belong anywhere. “I live as instructed/No way through/No place in me for you.”)

The band’s first three albums -- Twin-Hand Movement, Nootropics, and Escape from Evil -- formed a narrative of sorts, about finding community, and identifying one’s responsibilities. This trajectory was interrupted by personal crises including frustrating battles with mental health. “In the last two years it started to have more and more of an effect on my life,” Hunter says, “until I finally found myself unable to really function. Very scary thought, very scary feeling, to know that you might not be connected to what’s really going on.” At the same time, Hunter was and is still undergoing a gender transition they had been deferring for many years. “I repressed the idea for a long time,” Hunter says, “but I’ve been going through both medical and social transitions, from living as a woman to a non-binary person and now more toward the other end of the binary.”



Ami Dang fuses sitar, voice, and electronics to create east-meets-west, ambient, experimental, psych music. In her upcoming experimental album Parted Plains (to be released in 2019 Leaving Records) featuring sitar and electronics, she draws inspiration from South Asian and Middle Eastern folktales, specifically, the four tragic romances of Punjab, Sohni Mahiwal, Sassi Punnun, Heer Ranjha, and Mirza Sahiba ; Flora Annie Steel’s Tales of the Punjab : Folklore of India, and selected stories from One Thousand and One Nights. Galvanized by the Western interpretations of these stories, Parted Plains unfolds as a new sort of soundtrack for a yet-to-be written folktale that is neither Eastern nor Western, not traditional or contemporary--but somewhere in between.