Lower Dens – Nootropics

written by: April 10, 2012
Release Date: May 1st, 2012


If Lower Dens dug any lower, they might reach the earth’s core, but odds are that would be a lot warmer than the chilly and atmospheric sound they create on Nootropics (pronounced No-eh-tro-piks). Not for nothing does the Baltimore quintet describe themselves as “dark nerds” on their facebook page, for that’s very much what comes across on their second full-length release, the follow up to their 2010 debut, Twin Hand Movement. Led by the sultry but subtle and unaffected alto of Jana Hunter, the group now includes drummer Nate Nelson and keyboardist Carter Tanton, in addition to original members William Adams on guitar and Geoffrey Graham on bass.

The kick-off cut, “Alphabet Song,” seems to rhythmically dig under a ramshackle Beach House with a child’s shovel and pail, until the very sand seems to slip away with the ebbtide. By comparison, “Candy” veritably gallops along, albeit at the pace of a polar bear lurching along atop a glacier; only Low or Codeine seem to have such a struggle “rocking out” as Lower Dens do, but that is never the goal here. Of course Ursus maritimus never has the luxury of hibernation, and it sounds as if Lower Dens are either struggling to emerge from such a deep sleep or are ready to shut their bodies down and embrace the approaching somnambulance. “Lion In Winter” parts one and two sounds more like an arctic fox piloting a solar sailor through the clouds to catch a warren of white rabbits, or at the very least a husk of snowshoe hares. So it comes as no surprise to learn that Nootropics was engineered at Key Club Recording in Benton Harbor, MI with producer Drew Brown (who has engineered work by Radiohead, Sandro Perri, Beck, and Blonde Redhead) and completed back home in Charm City.

Without a doubt there’s a grandiose, anthemic quality to “Nova Anthem,” but it’s not the kind one would sing in church on an Easter morning. But then again, you don’t build a church for Easter Sunday. Lower Dens seem to be worship at the altar of ambient Eno, but they’ve toured the vocal catacombs of Cocteau Twins, heard a Bel Canto in the process, taken Hugo Largo for a few spins and shuffled their feet to This Mortal Coil (at the hand of canned goods, perhaps).

That’s not to say that this record is merely an assemblage of influences– like it or not, there is enough going on here to support the claim that this music is truly new, and it’s either interesting or narcolepsy-inducing, and perhaps a little of both, if such a thing is possible. Nootropics is at turns either achingly beautiful or achingly slow or both, which is at turns deeply entrancing or gratingly annoying, depending on the listener’s mood. This is mood music, and not recommended for 3rd shift truck drivers or cramming college students pulling an all-nighter, so caveat emptor, or waking up in a puddle of blood in a roadside ditch or a puddle of saliva face-planted in a hundred dollar textbook is a real possibility.

Nootropics is in no way tropical, so although it seems at first that the record has been poorly titled, it turns out that nootropics are drugs, supplements and foods that are supposed to improve mental functions such as cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention and concentration. Thus it would seem that devoting one’s complete attention to the listening experience would be highly recommended. It’s a pity we live in a world plagued with such short attention spans. But if that’s really the goal of Nootropics, complete immersion is a good idea, and if an isolation tank is available, that would be even more conducive for “improved mental function.” If not that, a prolonged sleep might be the end result; regardless, it would be a worthwhile experiment, and the same should be said for this record from beginning to end.

Lower Dens – Nootropics tracklist:

  1. “Alphabet Song”
  2. “Brains”
  3. “Stem”
  4. “Propagation”
  5. “Lamb”
  6. “Candy”
  7. “Lion in Winter Pt. 1”
  8. “Lion in Winter Pt. 2”
  9. “Nova Anthem”
  10. “In the End Is the Beginning”