Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Jana Hunter has a sly, somewhat lazy smile and it's one of the things that I like most about her. It's an expression that takes while to warm up and get into a position to do anything substantial, kind of like an old car in the winter - where it needs to run for about 20 minutes before anyone should ever go near it and try to throw it into drive and go anywhere with it. It's an expression that seems to say other things about this songwriter and it all fits right in with her wonderful new project, which goes by the name of Lower Dens, and it features Hunter and her Baltimore brethren at their finest. There's such a comfortable and slack pace to the group's debut album - "Twin-Hand Movement," on Devendra Banhart's Gnomonsong imprint (the same one that Hunter has released her song recordings on) - that we find ourselves becoming sluggish and lax with our posture. It's the kind of album that you can see coming from a young woman whom we'd swear you could watch for a full year and never see her smoking a cigarette that was any longer than a nub. It's as if she's been here - wherever you've just arrived at - for hours, smoking every last stick she has in her pack, her pocket, her bag, her cushions, and all that her friends had to lend and there she is, at the very end of the last one. She's just been right there, likely all through the night - having not slept a wink, just smoked herself conscious and semi-alert, and able to take in stimuli enough to encode her thoughts into these hymn-like clouds. Some of the songs say more than others. Some even say more in their titles than others do in their entirety - for instance, the album closer, "Two Cocks Waving Wildly At Each Other Across A Vast Open Space, A Dark Icy Tundra." For the most part though, "Twin-Hand Movement," is a collection of private moments that are bathed in the dim light of a pool hall, the yellows and reds coming down out of those octagonal-shaded beer company lamps that catch all of the blue, floating pool cue chalk as it scatters. They are songs that are good for many things, but they are assuredly good for one golden summary that brings everything together. Hunter sings, "Someday you'll trust me," repeats herself a few times and it claws us, just a bit across the arm, leaving just a little bit of blood and hurt, a shade of what it took for her to think the words in the first place. We're willingly lost in the thrum of Hunter's grave voice, one that's lost between concern and being worn down to bone, and we're letting our heads fill with her gray smoke. It takes over rather quickly and we can see, out of the corners of our eyes, the wasted look in hers, and that lazy grin is grimly starting to warm up some.