Based on what I’ve seen from The Wire (and TV always equals truth), Baltimore isn’t a dream destination. But based on the sounds from two of the city’s most noteworthy bands, Lower Dens and Beach House (who are both releasing albums this month), you would think the city rests on a bed of billowy clouds. While we will tackle the new Beach House album in a couple weeks, let’s get down to brass tax and talk about Nootropics, the second album from female singer/songwriter Jana Hunter’s best project, Lower Dens.
Nootropics follows Twin-Hand Movement, the band’s brilliant debut album with more of the same heady, atmospheric sound but abandon the guitar a little for a more synthetic sound, making for mostly spectacular results though falls just short of the height of their debut. For those unfamiliar, Lower Dens’ sound combines the space-rock sound of mid-career Radiohead with a heavy dose of Krautrock (70’s German space rock) and shoegaze (early 90’s ambient rock) to make for one inebriating mix. Hunter’s voice is no doubt unique, lacking clear femininity or masculinity in her voice but no doubt still capturing tons of emotion in her murky falsetto.
Opener “Alphabet Song” gets along on the back of an elementary but infectious blip of a synth line and featherweight percussion slowly easing you into the album. Track two and lead single “Brains” builds slowly and systematically over a driving electronic rhythm and synth in true Krautrock fashion, but almost bring on a Beach Boys-y round of voices as the song culminates. “Stem” keeps the momentum of “Brains” for what makes for one fantastic instrumental track and finish to the musical theme of its predecessor. Another two-parter, “Lion in Winter, Pt. 1” and “Lion in Winter, Pt. 2”, goes the reverse, with the “Pt. 1” setting the barren instrumental scene, and “Pt. 2” emerging with a bit of bounce out of the swirling storm of guitars. The fluidity of Lower Dens’ music is no doubt one of its strengths, as it almost floats in the back of your mind as one extended hazy recollection rather than a clear cut collection of distinct songs.
Songs like “Nova Anthem” and “Lamb” sound like the best Muse has to offer without the over-the-top rock theatrics. “Candy” appropriately is the sweetest melody on Nootropics, riding on the pluck of a baritone keyboard and building upon some fine guitar and drum groundwork. Much like Spoon, the precision and production in Lower Dens music is understated but cannot be underappreciated; these two p’s are a huge component of what sets them apart, and really stands out on songs like “Candy” and “Alphabet Song” which shine when given a careful listening.
If I have any criticism of Nootropics, it is that the album can get pretty sleepy at times to a fault. The album is always gleaming and mysterious, but points on songs like “Lion in Winter Pt. 1” and closer “In the End is the Beginning” tend to get a bit slow if you aren’t carefully listening. That being said, Nootropics is absolutely worth your time and more than that, your undivided attention.
Can’t Miss: “Brains”, “Stem”, “Candy”, “Nova Anthem”
Can’t Hit: “Lion in Winter, Pt. 1”