Album Review: Lower Dens - Nootropics

29 May 2012 | 6:48 pm | Brendan Telford

Nootropics certainly lives up to the band’s own description of being “difficult to listen to”.

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Nootropics, the latest release from Lower Dens, certainly lives up to the band's own description of being “difficult to listen to”. After over 10 listens through, there's still something completely inaccessible about the album. Every song wants to let you in, with ear catching intros that help you focus for the first 30 seconds or so, but after that they're just a blur. Glimpses of listening pleasure catch your attention intermittently but it's a tune in/tune out background music affair for the most part.

The Baltimore five-piece, with newly added synth players, come from the same scene as Beach House, but they don't quite hit the same mark. Where Beach House make a summery synth layered cake of intricacies, Lower Dens is sparse, with minimalist instrument lines. Having said that, Kim Deal has often pointed out that resisting a flourish is hard work and it's the easy basslines that are hardest to play, so maybe there's a talent and self-control there to be appreciated.

Propagation touches the Kings Of Leon area of country crooning, while Brains is the most lively track of the album. Lion In Winter Pt.1 And Pt2 are a bit too art-student-self-indulgent, but if you're on the trip with them it's an okay ride. The only real highlight is Stem, which is also the only track that gets to the trans-humanism theme that they were shooting for, and even then it's hard to stay tuned in. Labeled “freak-folk” and “nightmare music”, the sound is cold and austere, and is difficult to appreciate. In that sense, I guess they are a modern incarnation of the triptastic Grateful Dead folk pioneers, but that's where the similarities end.