It’s funny to think that post-punk is an ongoing genre, as if in 2012 something could still be designated as such yet actually be stylistically the same as the early 80s origin of the term, as if there were still punk to be reacting to. Lower Dens are certainly very different from PiL or Gang Of Four, but they are unmistakably post-punk. Ya, the stuff is making a comeback along with all the other 80s stuff, but it’s hard to pin a retro tag on Nootropics because it combines shoegaze and markedly modern beats into its expansive mixture. The album is a roller coaster of emotions with an emphasis on uncertainty, but as your heart skips a beat or two you may experience brief moments of clarity.
“Alphabet Song” gives absolutely no indication of what will become of this album; it’s sleepy, hazy--perhaps appropriately druggy in keeping with the album title--and does not assert itself at all. ”Brains” feels like the actual beginning; it starts off as an innocent Krautrock two-step and just gets slowly more remarkable and freaky with each passing measure. It barely has any structure, just a long swell/coalescence, and then it fades back into the beat and there’s this happy little coda called “Stem” that would’ve been perfect for the Life Aquatic soundtrack. It’s one of those situations where it’s imperative that you put this on a mixtape ASAP, but you definitely have to use both tracks even though it goes against your nature as a mixtaper.
Next up is a significant lull in tempo, though not in intensity. “Propagation” is such a long, steady build that you don’t even notice how wicked it has gotten until it ends jarringly--it’s a powerful impact. The peak moment of “Lamb” with those gorgeous harmonies is breathtaking, and even the denouement/fade out keeps you alert. Then there’s the starkly straightforward “Candy”, which avoids the temptation to go all out on the reverb and just rocks gently forward, a crystal-clear drone not unlike the xx except, unavoidably, there’s more going on. It still feels uncertain and eerie, especially the whining guitar solo that ends it, but if that bass is cranked you could dance your ass off to it.
“Nova Anthem” is relentless but soothing at times; it’s almost like a hymn, except in this instance Jana Hunter’s vocals are pushed too far out in front, sort of souring what are otherwise beautiful moments. Her voice is tough to describe; it’s almost like a blank slate of human sound, very effective as long as you don’t completely blast it. Sometimes, as in “Brains”, she’s little more than a mumble, and often in the epic closer “In The End Is The Beginning” she’s just a moan, there but lost amidst a throbbing, guttural bass and a collage of guitar noises, and these are her most intriguing vocal spots. The success of Nootropics is in its subtleties; when it goes for the jugular, it misses, but it is 100% worth the effort to let the whole thing sink in.