Between the concept behind their latest album and the marked change from their previous output it’s obvious that Lower Dens are taking Nootropics seriously.
The title is a result of the band’s interest in the concept of extending human ability through technology, a blend that’s apparent from the album’s opening track. Where their last album, Twin Hand Movement sometimes felt like a meandering jam session, Nootropics is streamlined, mechanical by comparison.
Jangling walls of sound and tambourines have been replaced by slick streams of rhythmic bass and synthesisers. The guitars are still there, but they take a far more utilitarian role than before, providing more of a skeleton than an ethereal mist. The change is also clear in frontwoman Jana Hunter’s vocals. Where before the vocals were fragile, paper thin and dipping in and out of the mix they’re now the main focus of a number of the tracks, particularly ‘Candy’ which combines a thudding backbeat with gliding slide guitar lines, all providing Hunter with a solid foundation for her lyrics.
Despite these changes it’s still clear that Lower Dens haven’t completely abandoned their past sound, just stripped away the excess, concentrating their music in to a more compact form. The instrumental ‘Lion in Winter Pt.1’ focuses on string-sounds and feedback like synths, while speaker-rattling bass notes and rhythms make themselves more and more apparent, it feels like an obvious progression from the atmosphere of Twin Hand Movement. ‘Pt. 2’ meanwhile is driven by that same thudding bass, but brings in far more of a ‘typical’ song structure, as though the tracks are reigned in as the album progresses.
The ‘cleaned up’ nature of the record really allows every element to come through so much more clearly. The strongest track, 'Nova Anthem', demonstrates every aspect of the band’s song writing perfectly. Looping rhythms, rich vocals, atmospheric bass, but it’s as though the volume’s been turned up, everything rises out of the mix, and Hunter’s skills as a singer are far more apparent.
If you were expecting a repeat of Lower Dens’ previous record then you might be disappointed by the band’s change in sound, but Nootropics is a far stronger record for it. It’s the same band, just in a new slimline package.