Lower Dens’ sophomore album, Nootropics, is named after a class of memory-enhancing drugs. It’s a bit of a misnomer. The Baltimore-based quartet craft songs that unfold and disperse like lazily-blown smoke rings. It’s more like a dream state than a recollection.
Frontwoman Jana Hunter — who often sounds like a dead ringer for Beach House’s Victoria Legrand — doesn’t directly lead the listener through the band’s hazy compositions, she guides them from afar; her raspy siren’s alto calls out through a heady blend of synth and percussion. Having already proven themselves well schooled in the art of atmosphere on debut album Twin-Hand Movement, Lower Dens tweaks the formula to add a sinister sweetness, particularly in two-part suite “Lion in Winter Pt. 1″ and “Lion in the Winter Pt. 2,” where a tapestry of drone is pierced by slow-building, video-game style electronics.
It isn’t all creeping and crawling. Unafraid of guitars and adroit at rocking out stylishly, Lower Dens turn up the energy for “Brains,” a tune that pairs a volley of beats with a duet of smoldering voices, twisting around each other in a fervor that seemingly borders on glossolalia. But even in their most straightforward, guitar-driven moments there’s an undercurrent of mystery, which — like any dream — threatens to sweep the listener away.