Apr 30, 2012 Web Exclusive
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.
After the tighter structures established with the winning pop/rock of Twin-Hand Movement, Jana Hunter reportedly picked up an unfamiliar instrument—a keyboard—and composed in their touring van. The end result is an intriguing, ambitious set of songs that reward those who opt for full immersion, rather than cherry-picking tracks, with each listen.
While some songs nod toward the keyboard's influence, here the instrument typically serves to add color and space at the hand of new keyboardist/guitarist Carter Tanton rather than moving to the fore as a dominant element. Languorous vocals from Hunter float over the tricky rhythm driving "Alphabet Song," and a motif of electronic figures wrap William Adams's winsome guitar lines as the band edges into territory sometimes inhabited by Radiohead.
Nootropics serves at times as a showcase for Hunter's voice, an instrument revealed to contain even more power than Twin-Hand Movement displayed. The band slows down and stretches out with "Lamb," with synth and guitar providing a smooth platform for the singer to open up for peaks that, with her own double-tracked harmonies, are scalp-tingling.
In one of the album's rock-driven turns, the dry, tight atmosphere and clockwork pace of "Brains" recalls the feel of Neu!'s work in the '70s. Following Hunter's vocal contribution, that track continues unbroken as an instrumental called "Stem," where multiple guitar layers take the lead. Overall, they make for a hypnotic whole.
As if they hadn't already covered enough ground, the band opens up at the end for a 12-minute ride with the sprawling post-rock "In the End Is the Beginning." The mood is similar to Public Image Ltd's Metal Box, and where the instrumentation basically deteriorates to nonexistence by the end, somehow that seems a logical conclusion, as Nootropics has nothing left to reveal or prove. (www.lowerdens.com)
Author rating: 8/10
Average reader rating: 9/10
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