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“The record as a whole begs for an assessment of all the flaws inherent in our existence, and to imagine a better, more suitable, logical way for humanity to live.” So says Lower Dens leader Jana Hunter about the band’s stunning new album Nootropics. It’s an ambitious work, and it delivers — heavily metaphorical, the symmetries and concordances of the lyrics run deep; the luminous lines of the music converge at a point in a future just out of view. Lower Dens has made music that reconciles fear and uncertainty by freeze-framing it and turning it into a thing of beauty.
Pronounced no-eh-tro-pics, the title refers to a type of drug used to enhance memory or other cognitive functions. That’s a reference to Hunter’s interest in transhumanism, the use of technology to extend human capabilities. It could just as easily extend to the music itself — even the band’s newfound keyboards achieve a human-digital synthesis that aptly mirrors the album’s themes.
Lower Dens released their beguiling debut album Twin-Hand Movement in July 2010. Like Nootropics, the full depth and range of its formidable charms unfold over multiple listens — it’s a grower, and accordingly, Lower Dens’ popularity and acclaim grew and grew too. They were asked to join bigger and bigger tours, with the likes of Bear in Heaven, the Walkmen, Beach House, and Deerhunter, and wound up playing around 200 shows in that grueling 12-month span, developing the kind of musical telepathy that only relentless touring can bring.
Somehow, amid all the travel, Hunter had to write songs for the next album. So she got a keyboard — an instrument she doesn’t really know how to play — plugged in some headphones, and began composing, writing most of Nootropics in the back seat of the Lower Dens tour van as it rolled down the interstates. “It helped me write a record that feels good looking out a car window,” Hunter says. But it also helped her to write a trailblazing new record.
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