Indie rock is a tough world in which to exist in 2012. Too many of its players take a slightly overdriven guitar, plunk out some major chords in common time, and call it a day once they've gotten a predictable haircut to match the music.
Lower Dens have decidedly placed themselves outside of this realm. First of all, they've done their homework. Driving rhythms with a polite hustle underpin many of the tracks present here, a clear nod to the drumming style present in Germany's Krautrock movement of the late 60's and 70's. I could count all the drums fills present on Nootropics on one hand. Layers appear over the rhythm, bury it, but never stop it from chugging along. Those layers are frequently composed of organic sounds pulled from what seems to be a myriad of guitar effects pedals and obscure synthesizer settings. Such tones make it clear that much time was spent in the recording studio, also evidenced by the unique textures created by multiple vocal overdubs singing in different tambres to create an occasionally otherworldy vocal presence.
Surrealism seems to be a key theme to this album. It's apparent from the cover artwork that it's intended for a late night. What first struck me was its slight similarity to the cover art for David Lynch's psychotic 2006 film Inland Empire. While it doesn't have the "freak out" moments in that film which actually did give me nightmares for a few evenings, it would be totally appropriate to occupy the sonic space of the film where the characters wander around mysterious grimey urban areas at odd hours. There's an incredible uneasiness present when they want it to be, such as on the album's closer, "In the End is the Beginning".
The album is mellow, sure, and if you don't pay attention you might pass it off as another indie dream-pop release. I ask that you keep those ears alert and attentive while absorbing Nootropics as its detailed and rich production will reveal a ghostly sensibility to the album that may be lost on the casual listener but if noticed will make the album an entirely more enjoyable experience. It must be hidden in the reverb.
Tom Steffes is Radio K's Digital Media Producer.