Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Lower Dens Nootropics

By Tom Breihan / May 1, 2012 - 1:56 pm

I’ve had the digital promo of Nootropics, the sophomore album from Baltimore dream-rock band Lower Dens, for a couple of months now. And according to my iTunes, I’ve listened to its 10 songs an average of 106 times. I’ve mentioned this a few times on Stereogum already, but it almost immediately became my daughter’s favorite album of all time. My kid just turned three, but putting her to bed is this massive ordeal; I need to hold her and bounce her and pace back and forth across her bedroom for something like an hour, until she drifts off. By the end of it, my back is screaming at me. And her attachment to this album has become intense and kind of weird; she cries hard if I try to put on anything else. But here’s a measure of how good this album is: I haven’t gotten entirely sick of it yet.

That’s mostly because I can see where my kid is coming from. Nootropics is a world-class sleeping aid, and I don’t mean that as a slight. When the band released their debut Twin-Hand Movement a couple of years ago, hazy drift was a big part of it. They were mostly a guitar band then, and their sound worked by lazily and comfortably wrapping all their different guitar lines around each other, forming these intuitive tapestries of sound. They reminded me a bit of Luna then; they had that same easy, instinctual interplay, like they’d been born playing guitar with one another. They hadn’t, of course. Bandleader Jana Hunter is a former freak-folk artist, and the band had tons of interpersonal problems and lineup shifts after the album came out. But that calm, familiar sense of drift is still all over Nootropics; it’s just been pushed in some different directions.

Among other things, Nootropics is the band’s krautrock move, the one where they discover the repetitive possibilities of weirdly-timed motorik drum-tics and stretched-out-beyond-the-sunset guitar tones. And Hunter’s voice — a controlled, crystalline alto — fits those sounds perfectly. But unlike a lot of other bands who play around with krautrock, Lower Dens haven’t let their experiments affect their songwriting. I don’t know what Hunter is singing about most of the time, but she has a great ear for chiming Sigur Rós-style melodic flights, and so her choruses have an emotional pull to them. And when the band is working at peak capacity, there’s also a rare immediacy to them. “Lion In Winter Pt. 2,” my favorite song on the album, drifts out of the formless ambient guitar-fog of “Pt. 1″ and into a pulsing low-toned synthesizer. That keyboard sounds a few times, then falls into a pattern that sounds something like mid-’80s New Order being heard from the apartment next door. The rest of the band falls in behind that riff right away. It’s a beautiful moment, and it’s a catchy one too.

Lower Dens don’t strike me as the sort of band who will be happy to learn about their album’s putting-kids-to-bed uses. In interviews, Hunter has been talking a lot about singing from the point of view of a robot and stuff like that. But in experimenting and pushing themselves, Lower Dens have come up with a sound that works as a potent calming agent — the sort of thing that bleeds beautifully into the background, whatever you may be doing. Like fellow Baltimore dreamers Beach House — whose Victoria Legrand has some serious vocal similarities with Hunter — they make music that hits some primal relaxation button in your brain. And that’s a button you probably need someone to hit every once in a while.

Nootropics is out now on Ribbon Music. It’s streaming here, and our Progress Report interview with Hunter is here. But the album at eMusic.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Santigold’s long-awaited sophomore album Master Of My Make-Believe.
• Father John Misty’s post-Fleet Foxes solo turn Fear Fun.
• Ramona Falls’ intricate indie-pop effort Prophet.
• Norah Jones’s Danger Mouse collaboration Little Broken Hearts.
• Rufus Wainwright’s arch pop return Out Of The Game.
• Light Asylum’s self-titled death-disco debut.
• Kwes.’s spare electro-pop EP Meantime.
• The all-star Every Mother Counts benefit compilation.
• The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s new album Aufheben.
• Bobby Conn’s latest Macaroni.

Tags: Lower Dens
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