Review Summary: A pill best ingested over and over and over.
For an album that is named after memory enhancing drugs, the latest Lower Dens album, at first listen, may come off more so a narcotic than a nootropic. Packed with atmospheric guitars, trance-inducing synths and reverb soaked vocals, the Baltimore outfits kraut-inspired motif can easily put a casual listener into a sleepy state. But there’s much more than just cheap indie atmosphere to be absorbed here.
Think of this album as, rather than a drug, but the cabinet above your sink where you keep all of your Ibuprophen for all of those pesky headaches: some Ritalin for those days of uncontrollable euphoria and troublesome ambition and energy: some Prozac for the side effects. This album may even go further and feel like a trip to a pharmacy and strolling down the aisles pondering at all of the syrups, pills, capsules and formulas looking for whatever you need that will make you feel better.
The opener “Alphabet Song” is one of those aforementioned narcotic spots with the faux drum machine opening and the bright yet somehow gloomy synth lead welcoming frontwoman Jana Hunter’s wispy singing that sedates the listener from first listen giving either a feeling of supreme relaxation or feeling burnt out, depending on the listener. This is a feeling that is crushed by the next track “Brains”: undeniably one of the best tracks overall. The steady surf-ish drumming gets you to your core and sets you up for a spot that builds and builds adding more dreamy yet urgent riffing, synths that slowly but surely reach a crescendo and Jana’s more androgynous singing that grows more and more through the songs sole verse. This and it’s stem which is appropriately titled “Stem” feel like a straight dose of caffeine to pick you up in the morning.
Then there’s Lamb. Lamb feels like a drug with a side effect of depression. The simple sorrow of the melody is bolstered by Jana’s most emotive vocals on the album, which sprawl out into the open like an eagle taking flight. One thing that should be noted is that Jana Hunter is a very diverse vocalist that, like Beach House’s Victora Legrand, can really belt out even when her voice is slathered in reverb.
There are some drugged up moments: we’re talking about substances harder than cough syrup here. There is a 4 minute ambient piece “Lion in Winter Pt. 1” that feels very suitable for the opening of a Pink Floyd epic with some deep bass rumbles and quaint yet epic guitar wailing and flailing in the back of the mix. Eventually these elements are accompanied by some tricked out noise that flails back and forth along with some more jarring noise that is mixed quite enough to fit the atmosphere of the track. Too bad this leads up to the albums least fitting and weakest joint.
Nootropics may not be a thickly layered emotional experience for everyone, but for those who are really up for some well crafted, all-purpose krautrock can look no further than this album. There are few albums this year that have been able to capture an essence this strong and be able to display that essence in so many ways while still feeling tight and vibrant. One can dig into “Candy” for a more early post-punk vibe while still getting the album’s lucidity. One who wants all of the haze in the world without feeling cheaped out on can refer to “Propagation”. The richness of Nootropics is well deserving of a listen.