Lower Dens - Nootropics Review
Posted by C.A. Bell on 05.03.2012
Baltimore's Lower Dens kicked up a lot of dust with their debut record. Will Nooptropics begin a streak of greatness, or become just another victim of the dreaded sophomore slump myth? 411's C.A. Bell is here to dig up the truth.
Release Date:May 1, 2012 Running Time:50:21 Label: Ribbon Music Genre:Neo-Euthanasia Key Tracks:
Everything from Twin-Hand Movement
Lower Dens exploded onto the indie scene in 2010 to great fanfare (and justifiably so) with their debut Twin Hand Movement. The album garnered wide and almost unanimous critical acclaim for this quartet side project from Baltimore's Jana Hunter. AllMusic said that the record "explores the more ethereal side of freak folk." I don't know what the hell that means, but it sounds pretty good. The band took a Lo-Fi aesthetic and applied it to vogue references like krautrock and European folk in a really interesting way. With their follow-up, Nootropics, they are still fiddling with the vogue, but now in an infinitely less interesting way. This record is so far removed from the band's debut that I actually had to double check Earbuddy's advance copy during the first listen to make sure the wrong album hadn't been included by mistake. As a matter of fact, the largest achievement Nootropics may have reached is being the single least emotion-inducing recording made this year. I care more about dead silence.
While there was a certain urgency and haze floating over Twin Hand Movement, Nootropics has been stripped of either. Any vestiges of that 'freak folk' are also lost for this quasi-psychedelic melding of krautrock minimalism with cookie-cutter acid house. I feel like kicking my own ass after writing that last sentence. Hunter has had the gall to claim this record was influenced by David Bowie and Brian Eno's Berlin Trilogy. I suppose that could be true, if the group was attempting to make the exact opposite kind of music. The record's first single, "Brains", is the closest of anything you'll find here to a memorable track, and even that is due to a drum track lifted from Neu! Much of this record actually sounds a lot similar to a record released last year by the group The Humans than it does their own debut record. Of course, the difference there being that Nootropics still has far less flavor than the Humans' record. There are only two theories I could possibly put forward to explain this baffling mess; either these folks decided to release cutting room fragments as a record, or they were completely uninterested in making this music. Given a complete lack of coverage suggesting these are b-roll songs, I'm assuming the latter is the culprit on Nootropics. The only thing fueling such apathy-inspiring work has to be apathy itself.
The songs on Nootropics do at least come together to sound like a singular work. Of course, one giant pile of blah is only set apart from a smaller one in that it takes longer to endure. The defining minimalism of krautrock has always threatened boredom. But, groups like Neu!, Can, and Faust were able to integrate a certain level of danger or urgency into the music. When groups like Suicide and ESG took up the torch, they seemed even more dangerous, or better yet scary. With Nootropics, Lower Dens not only fails to add anything new to the discussion, they actually sap the last bits of character out of it. Hunter's vocals alone are lifeless enough to bring Richard Simmons a much needed nap. The addition of a trip hop angle only brings the music that much closer to elevator muzak. Actually, I think the muzak version of "Cat Scratch Fever" would be more memorable.