Smile Politely

Lost in the haze of Lower Dens

With the resurgent acceptance of krautrock as an indie building block, it should come as no surprise that Lower Dens are breaking out. Twin-Hand Movement was a chippy, immediate record from a hungry band, but one that only hinted at the things they were capable of. Based on its strength, they opened for the likes of Deerhunter and the Walkmen and now make their way to Pygmalion this Saturday as Grizzly Bear’s tour support. This year’s stunning Nootropics is a rewarding change of approach, one where subtlety and the coloration of sound matter more than crashing drums and loud guitar.

A front-runner for album of the year, in my opinion, the grand nocturnal sweep of Nootropics deserves to be heard in a single sitting for best effect. Album opener “Alphabet Song” plays like a rebuild of Can’s seminal “Paperhouse,” building from skeletal percussion to incorporate synth, guitar, and Jana Hunter’s soaring vocal into a foreboding haze. Immediately thereafter we get the album’s clear standout in the motorik-influenced “Brains,” an insistent dirge that breaks into gorgeous feedback plateaus before segueing into “Stem.”

While the in-your-face recording techniques that made up Twin-Hand Movement are gone, the heavy production that replaces it is fitting for the group’s tightly-coiled sound and sudden outbursts of noise. Frontwoman Jana Hunter cites Kraftwerk and Fripp & Eno as influences, and the influence is especially clear on the back half of the album, where “Lion in Winter Pt. 2” and “In the End is the Beginning” incorporate metronome synth grooves and processed drums to great effect. “In the End is the Beginning” was even deemed awesome enough to have a beer named after it.

After witnessing the band’s confident early afternoon set at Pitchfork back in July and digging into Nootropics, I’m truly excited to see what Lower Dens can bring to Champaign on Saturday.

You can catch Lower Dens at the Highdive Outdoor Annex Stage 1 on Saturday with Grandkids, Common Loon, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Dinosaur Jr., and Grizzly Bear. Their set starts at 5:25 p.m.

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