Lower Dens – Nootropics album review

“And now for something completely different.” These words, immortalized by Monty Python, would be the best way to introduce the strange and unique sounds of the relentlessly touring five-piece outfit known as Lower Dens. Originally the brainchild of Baltimore based noise rocker Jana Hunter, the group has released their second full-length album on Ribbon Music: Nootropics.

A nootropic, also known as smart drugs or neuro enhancers, is a kind of chemical used to enhance cognitive functions like memory and intelligence. That being said, the intellectual sophistication of the album demands as much attention as the album title suggests. The ten-song work is infused with themes of transhumanism and the ambivalence regarding technological advancement and the human condition. Essentially the album asks, will technology save us or bury us alive?

The problem is that a random listener would never understand what kind of depth the band is actually trying to convey. Futuristic sounds and imagery reminiscent of Brian Eno are coupled with the vocal qualities and sonic textures similar to recent Radiohead, giving the album an eerie sci-fi vibe that would work well in a post-apocolyptic film about flesh eating robots—which isn’t to far off from the transhumanistic vibe. Still, a listener would have to actually do some research and active listening to understand the whole narrative behind Nootropics.

Maybe Lower Dens aren’t trying to be simple and easily digestible by the masses. That’s cool. Most descent art, from Van Gogh and Marcel Duchamp to the 12 tone rows of Schoenberg and cell compositions of Webern only appealed to a select group of loyal and sophisticated fans. Nonetheless, the dissonant reverberating guitars and industrial pulses throughout the album make for a real masterpiece to those who give it the time to sink in to their neurotransmitters. I would give this ambitious endeavor by Hunter and her hard-working cohorts an H+.

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