Lower Dens – Nootropics

The ambient art-rock and eerie tones of Baltimore group Lower Dens play havoc with your senses – either calming you or building a gripping and unnatural tension. A “nootropic” is a type of drug which enhances one’s memory and other cognitive functions. In much the same way that Nootropics, the band’s second LP, enhances the soundscape of 2010’s Twin-Hand Movement.

The opening track, Alphabet Song, is a slow psychedelic waltz covered in ethereal synth lines. There’s a dark minimalism inherent to this track, as the ghostly tones of Jana Hunter create a dynamic vocal style capable of moving between appearing masculine and appearing feminine. Lead single Brains is an example of exceptionally tight krautrock, becoming increasingly reminiscent of Hallogallo by Neu!. Swirling phrases of quirky percussion timings work alongside the dark guitar lines to slowly build an eerie tension. There is immense detail within this track, and you discover more of the intricacies the more you listen to it – it’s both hypnotic and addictive.

Propagation begins in a haze of spectre-like sirens. A sombre guitar-driven aesthetic prevails as the almost incoherent lyrics are drawn out in long and expressive syllables. There is a heavy atmosphere of subdued shoegaze, which is strangely calming. The sharp and dark ambience of Candy is instantly comparable to The Cure’s early albums. A timid bass line competes with a ghostly guitar squeal, as the vocals cut through the middle quite nicely with lines like “I never could / Let you down / Couldn’t we make it, if we try?”.

The concluding track, In the End is the Beginning, is an epic twelve minutes of swirling post-dubstep and moody electronica. Hunter’s vocal dynamics shine through here, maintaining a surreal eeriness and a perfectly expressive texture. Lyrically, the track possesses a dark emotive tone, with thought provoking lines like “At the end of the world / There’s no one waiting / For you”. By this point the album has completely expended all your senses.

Nootropics is in many ways a surreal exploration of the dark details of a post-rock sonic environment. Because of this, its vocal niceties tend to be drowned out in a sea of ambient tones and textures. However, it is in this hypnotising aesthetic that the subtle power of Lower Dens reigns.