Before you ask, no that is not the lead singer of Beach House. This is Lower Dens, a band that admittedly sounds a bit like Beach House, especially when you compare their singers back to back, but no, Lower Dens should be thought of as a band all on their own, and at the very least their most recent release, Nootropics proves that. Further proof: they are going on an international tour with Grizzly Bear. It is easy to think of a band as coming out of nowhere and being thrust into popularity, but this is very rarely the case, and Lower Dens comes across as a band that has put a lot of hard work into their music over the last few years that is finally starting to pay off. Their sound is very well polished, and while that is not necessarily a product of a bands musicianship, you get a real sense with Nootropics that it is.
I think here it is important to mention what a Nootropic is. It’s a drug that is meant to enhance memory. There are two themes that consistently work their way into most dream pop. The first is obvious, sleep, and the second is memory. Ever since My Bloody Valentine opened up Loveless with the restlessly ambitious Only Shallow, the topic of sleep has been a keystone for the genre of Dream Pop, which draws so heavily from Shoegaze. Plus its just common sense that a genre called Dream Pop would sing about sleeping and dreams. The second is a little more ambiguous, but is not that much of a stretch from dreams. How many times in your life have you falsely attributed something that actually happened to a dream or vice versa? And how many times have you had a dream only to have it fade away like sand through your finger tips? Plenty probably. While I would say that of the music that focuses on memory, Tom Wait’s Rain Dogs, Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest, and Blouse’s self titled album in particular, all focus on the ephemeral aspects of memories, the fleetingness of it. It is interesting then that Lower Dens tries right off the bat to stand out from these works in that they named their album after a memory enhancing drug. What’s more is that Nootropics just feels clearer. Its not as hazy as Blouse, and its certainly not as hazy as Loveless. Get this; you can actually make out all of the lyrics. Overall though these feel like small changes to a well familiar formula, don’t get me wrong though, Lower Dens earns their stripes in other ways.
I mentioned earlier that their musicianship was a strong contributing factor to their polishedness, and that musicianship is also what sets them apart from some other contemporary bands. Most of the musicians, the bassist and the drummer in particular, seem to be far better than they need to be to make the music work, and as a result the whole album feels that much better. Where in other bands a bassist will fill out the low end of sound and just set the loop, the bassist for Lower Dens does a very good job of reminding you that the bass is being played by a human. There are strange rhythm patterns and unexpected chord changes that really put movement underneath the main focus of the songs, something other bands should take real note of. The drummer too is skilled (or if a drum machine was used, the album is well produced), knowing when to really hammer out a beat under an otherwise delicate melody is a tricky mission, one accomplished with flair and tact on Nootropics. Anywho, it’s an album worth picking up. And yes, the singer sounds like that person from Beach House.