A mixed but often striking return from the Baltimore group...

It might be hard to believe in 2019, but at the turn of the decade a lot of the more notable innovations happening in alternative music seemed to be coming out of Baltimore. At the forefront were Beach House, whose album 'Teen Dream' sparked a full-on dream-pop revival. But whilst they took many of the plaudits, fellow Maryland-band Lower Dens were steadily building a cult following.

Almost ten years down the line, and four years since their last release, the band have returned – and whilst their fourth LP peters out a little in its second half, it’s an album that places them firmly ahead of ‘The Competition’.

Highlights include ‘Galapagos’, an epic, sprawling opener that’s one of the best tracks the band have ever written, and ‘Two Faced Love’, which possesses an eery sense of anticipation before exploding into a magnificent sonic crescendo. ‘Young Republicans’, and its talk of “the world burning”, provides a smartly satirical interlude to all the bombastic soundscapes, with ‘Buster Keaton’ offering a fitting tribute to the late American actor.

It’s an impressive front six from Lower Dens, but sadly ‘The Competition’ falls a few tracks short of greatness. ‘Empire Sundown’, and its grating electronic glitches, feels like a real misstep in an otherwise instrumentally stunning album. And labouring closer ‘In Your House’, a dry, slow piano ballad, brings the record to an underwhelming conclusion.

With that said, it’s hard not to marvel at the body of work Lower Dens have produced across four solid, and at times spectacular, releases. ‘The Competition’ gets a hell of a lot right, and you get the feeling for album five it might finally all together perfectly.

7/10

Words: Daniel Jeakins

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