Release Date: May 1, 2012
Record label: Ribbon Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Indie Folk
As you might guess of a gal who titled her 2005 solo album Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom, Lower Dens frontwoman Jana Hunter has some goth in her. "Mutate, deface... The whole shithouse goes up in flames," she sings over gorgeous synth drones on "Nova Anthem," an interstellar dirge that detours from her folksy solo work and her band's guitar-centric debut Twin Hand Movement.
Whirring forward—at times slick with the velvety magnetism of psychedelic riffs, other times peppered with the oddly attractive hiccups of a vintage movie reel—Nootropics, the latest record from Baltimore quintet Lower Dens, connects layered loops and trippy chants with catchy rock ‘n’ roll arrangements, delivering a pure punch of sonic bliss. Jana Hunter, the freak folk-inclined singer/songwriter who serves as the outfit’s frontwoman, has ditched the majority of the foggy reverb and bulky guitar riffs from the band’s 2010 release, Twin Hand Movement, in favor of a droning progression that mirrors a single, repetitious track. Playing into Hunter’s uncanny ability to craft an emotion-dense landscape, a majority of the record’s offerings inspire a deeply rooted reaction within the listener—stirring up feelings of joy and despair—while tickling the nostalgic corners of the brain.
There are bands who arrive fully formed and there are those who take a little while to find their footing. Sometimes all it takes is one song. In the case of Baltimore's Lower Dens, who are fronted by onetime folk eccentric Jana Hunter, that track was "Brains". Released in advance of this record, the single added krautrock and electronic touches to the group's signature guitar swirl and suggested a new dimension and a new confidence.
Jana Hunter’s vocal aura and musical vision continue to grow before our ears. The icy majesty of opener “Alphabet Song” delivers an instant gravitas that brings Victoria Legrand to mind (appropriately, Teen Dream producer Chris Coady has recorded Hunter multiple times). Largely favoring grayscale tones and sedated sentiment, Lower Dens’ highs achieve with an understated ability to evoke emotion; “Brains” oozes a hook instead of pushing one, and “Lamb” floats out of the ashes.
LOWER DENS play Lee’s Palace on Tuesday (July 17) with No Joy. See listing. Rating: NNNN Androgynous-voiced singer/songwriter Jana Hunter has spent her fair share of time in the freak folk circles that sprang up around Devendra Banhart in the early aughts. She can be heard on albums by CocoRosie, Phosphorescent, Castanets and Indian Jewelry, to name just a handful.
I was once startled by the idea that a close friend of mine and I were running on the very potentiality of ideas. I pictured two brains orbiting one another, the bodies that housed them just forsaken completely. I realized being present and not making demands beholden to either the past or the future was contentment. Contentment doesn’t bear scrutiny, and it’s a kind of relief.
What might have taken place following the release of Lower Dens' 2010 debut album to produce an organism like Nootropics? It's a question that's intended as a compliment..
Lower Dens' 2010 debut LP Twin-Hand Movement was a largely overlooked moment of understated brilliance. Native Texan turned Baltimore transplant Jana Hunter had been quietly toiling in the throes of experimental indie rock for years before forming an official band around her uneasily atmospheric solo songs, and though there was no dramatic shift in style or tone, something crystallized under the Lower Dens namesake that hadn't been there before. Finding a foggy middle ground between Motorik-Krautrock rhythms and the most dimly lit corners of shoegaze, Twin-Hand Movement built an atmosphere that was instantly transfixing though deceptively simple.
Lower DensNootropics[Ribbon Music; 2012]By Ray Finlayson; May 23, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetNootropics is definitely the kind of album that needs to be taken with a little perspicacity. While the casual listener might find one or two points of interest in Lower Dens sophomore album, appreciating it feels like something more than just hitting play and letting the music run its course. It’s a dense record, but never hopelessly deep; there’s always points of entry, such as the krautrock shuffle of “Brains,” or the noir-ish slow-step of “Candy.
Nootropics are drugs that enhance cognitive functions such as concentration, memory, and attention span. According to Lower Dens, their album title refers to the band’s “interest in transhumanism–the use of technology to extend human capabilities.” Sure, drugs have been inexorably tied to the inspiration, enjoyment, or the end of music for decades, but smart pills? That’s a new one. In any case, for Baltimore’s Lower Dens, it fits.
Nootropics are cognitive enhancing drugs, some designed specifically to enhance memory. It’s a timely name for an album; so many indie acts nowadays are tackling notions of nostalgia and memory, be it through sonic soundscapes or with Tumblrs filled with hazy Instagrams. It’s the world slowly coming to grips with a new reality where everything can be half-remembered and happily bathed in a reverb splash.
On the face of it, Lower Dens are as cold as they come. The glacial aesthetic that underpinned the Baltimore quartet’s debut offering Twin-Hand Movement often seemed as dense and impenetrable as a polar ice-cap. But hidden below this frozen facade was a warm heart, teased out by Jana Hunter’s mesmerising purrs and gorgeous fluttering of guitars.
Nootropics, the second album from Baltimore art-rock group Lower Dens, is a gray album for gray days. The record’s goofy title sounds as if it could be a reference to some long-forgotten Nickelodeon cartoon (“Welcome to Nootropics, kids!”) or one of those Philip K. Dick books written when he thought he was possessed by the prophet Elijah, but it actually refers to a word for smart drugs that, according to Wikipedia, can “improve mental functions such as cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention and concentration.” The earworm-y, throbbing lead single from the album is called “Brains,” and the album shows a keen interest in brainy topics ranging from robotics to the role of language.
Having quietly release their debut album ‘Twin-Hand Movement’ via Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic’s record label Gnomosong back in 2010, Lower Dens are back with an equally dizzying, tenebrous full length in ‘Nootropics’. With foundations firmly laid in the familiar propulsion of motorik rhythms and the understated drama of rumbling static, Jana Hunter and her Baltimore based cohorts’ sophomore effort find themselves in overtly slicker territory. Opening with the clattering percussion and tinkering synths of ‘Alphabet Song’ the five-piece ease you into the record’s dense textures and slightly unhinged atmospherics.
An icy, near-derelict soundscape of skeletal indie-rock and Krautrock. Chris Parkin 2012 Lower Dens’ first album, 2010’s Twin-Hand Movement, was such a spectral introduction to the band that it bothered fewer ears over here than a warm breeze in July. But the Baltimore band’s minimal, wraith-like mix of wintry indie-rock, dream-away sounds, gently propulsive rhythms and wispy, androgynous vocals compelled anyone who did feel its subtle charms to do two things: listen repeatedly and obsessively.