Lower Dens – Nootropics

January 01, 1970

(Ribbon Music)




With 2010’s Twin Hand Movement,
sometime freak folk diva Jana Hunter immersed herself in the sonics of a full
rock band, surrounding her clear, strange, road-weary voice in a glimmering web
of guitar strumming, slithery bass and backlit drums. Her singing, which had,
in solo albums, sounded like a lost girl group survivor, a muted cousin of
Karen Dalton, an otherworldly siren, remained untouchable, but the sound was
rough and grounded. Now, with the second Lower Dens album, Hunter has moved
even further from her guitar-toting beginnings, bringing on Carton Tanton for
the synthesizers, which, along with machine-precise drums, usher Nootropics into the neighborhood of


First single “Brains” is a likely bridge from old sound to new, its
brittle, snare-rattling beat overridden, soon enough, by the sounds of electric
guitar. About mid-way through, Hunter’s singing turns into a kind of rhythmic
chant, the guitar dies down and a synthesizer rises up like a church organ in
its place. And just like that “Brains” transforms from indie guitar rock into
something hypnotic, synthetic, surreal. “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid,”
Hunter whispers against repetitive drum skitter and viscous keyboard wail, and
if it’s not fear, there’s anticipation at least in the sense of entering new
territory. “Stem,” which follows immediately after, is even more electro, and
“Propagation,” dominated at first by the earthiness of bass, the manual clack
of snare and cymbal, turns ethereal in the singing. Much like Beach House’s
Victoria LeGrand, Hunter turns the warmth of sung blues bends into something
chilled and otherworldly.


The disc turns more experimental as it progresses, the two-part “Lion
in Winter” suite built out of layers of unearthly drone (part 1) and
disembodied disco beats (part 2). “Nova Anthem,” near the end, is the album’s
hidden highlight, a dark-shaded hymn of organ, slow-blooming vocals and a penetrating
rhythmic beat. It is here, nearly unadorned, that you hear again how beautiful
Hunter’s voice can be, how strong, and at the same time fragile, her delivery,
how the notes mutate from warmth to shiver as gutty phrases die off into
spectral trills.  “In the End Is the
Beginning,” the 12 plus minute finish, returns to Can-ish repetition, a
subliminal pulse of drum and bass, a distant squeal of synthesizer, and
Hunter’s voice, soft, supple and blues inflected, singing in a vast hallway
until she disappears at the end.


DOWNLOAD: “Brains” “Nova

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