I’m not really sure what indie rock is anymore, but I suspect that if someone asked me who my favorite indie rock bands operating today were, I would probably say Deerhunter/Atlas Sound and Beach House, and that would immediately lead me to recall — as it is doing now — a fairly recent interview with Bradford Cox where he said he didn’t know what the fuck indie rock was and that his music wasn’t fucking indie rock (and Trish Keenan suggested that he dye his hair blonde but he is more into radical honestly, in the Neil Young sense of the term, though maybe that final thought isn’t relevant here, although it obviously belongs here). And I may also mention that Beach House may be more dream pop than indie rock, though I wouldn’t believe a word that I was saying, nor would I want to be saying what I was saying. This brings us to the new Lower Dens record, which I do very much enjoy, and which, if someone were to ask me a question that needed such an answer, I would say reminds me, as far as it reminds me of things, of Beach House and Deerhunter.
A few more thoughts and then I will be done with the contextualizing comments (almost certainly a lie among more lies to come). Deerhunter is pretty dreamy too, if you hadn’t noticed, and while Bradford Cox no doubt delivers his most spacey, ambient transmissions for his solo project, “Earthquake” and “Helicopter” pop quite dreamily, though the link with Lower Dens lies more along the track laid down by a motorik beat, the krautrockery of tunes like the most exhilarating tune on Nootropics, “Brains,” which hurtles forward through a streamlined ambience of mild psychedelia, bringing to mind as well the rattled passion of The Walkmen’s “The Rat,” and making me slightly giddy with the lilting chords, reminiscent of Brian Eno’s “The Big Ship,” that come in a bit after the first verse, things turning a bit more slowly without the beat losing velocity. For all of those slight indications of songs outside of itself, intentional or not, it certainly operates like a powerful machine on its own, a rush of spiraling intensity, a song to make a name on.
As for the Beach House thing, it is mostly a product of Jana Hunter’s voice, which has more than a passing resemblance to Ms. Legrand’s, both in timbre and scope, especially when it climbs, and the territory the two Baltimore bands share is most evident when Lower Dens slow things down, as on the tipsy “Nova Anthem,” which is, however, more unnervingly mechanical than anything Beach House does. But Lower Dens’ energy is much more kinetic, less narcotic; dancing to “Lion in Winter, Pt.2,” with its squelchy, synthesizer bassline, or “Brains,” would be a pretty good idea, and likely to involve losing one’s shit in some sort of frantic body flinging, rather than the sensuous slow dance of revolving along with and very close to someone lovely in your kitchen while “Bloom” spins on and on.
But I digress, to bring an end to my digressions, and would point out that there is a friction on Nootropics, a struggle between control, stilted movement, and some more liberating, vibrant, wildlife that resides in the cloudy spaces that surround these songs, stretching into the textures at the edges which make my skin feel slightly warm. Evidently, according to the press release, the title, Nootropics, is a reference to the band’s “interest in transhumanism–the use of technology to extend human capabilities,” and nootropics are, according to Wikipedia, “drugs that can improve mental functions such as cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration.” I didn’t know that. But one of the great things about music is something like a drug, or was like a drug, motivating attention and concentration and making for strange admixtures of cognition and memory, other forms of being intelligent. Is Nootropics itself meant to be some sort of technology that extends us the capability to think in shapes we don’t usually think in? Well, it could be that, and it could just be better than everything else passing itself as indie rock showing off its roots in the both hinged and unhinged tendencies of the metronomic and ambient meetings of the 1970s.
Video: Lower Dens – “Brains”