A pair of very different albums come up for review this week. First, Lower Dens‘ second album, Nootropics blows us away despite being a restrained affair and The Lumineers‘ self-titled debut strikes all the right chords, although those chords are a little worn as of late.
Lower Dens – Nootropics
Release date: May 1
Jana Hunter entered the music scene during the slight ‘freak-folk’ phase in the mid aughts. Taken in by Devendra Banhart (on whose record company her solo albums, and the work of Lower Dens, have been released) and his ilk, Hunter was one of the better female acts of the bunch. Since then Hunter has expanded her sound greatly and started Lower Dens, a band which goes down a more narcotic experimental avenue. The band’s 2010 debut, Twin-Hand Movement is an understated, and underappreciated, beauty, and Nootropics is a worthy follow-up.
‘Alphabet Song’ opens the album and is as close to dripping as a song can get. Coming on in waves, much like a slow working drug, the track is your prototypical slow-burner and works well as an album opener.
Comparisons don’t exactly do this band justice, but the album opener and ‘Brains’, which follows, harken back to different periods of Stereolab. The latter, second, track speeds things up and adds a healthy serving of kraut-rock, ‘Brains’ is entirely enjoyable and a nice introduction to the band, if Lower Dens were to have a successful single, this is it. On an entirely personal note, one of my favourite girl bands is Electrelane and these tracks bring them to mind, a nice substitute as Electrelane is now defunct.
‘Stem’ keeps the kraut-rock feel going, with excellent synths propelling the song forward this one is over before you know it, both due to a short run-time and very catchy riff.
Tucked away in the middle of this album is an absolute gem of a song in ‘Lamb’. After ‘Propagation’, a rather auxiliary song which does little other than slow things down for the middle of the album, ‘Lamb’ comes in like a lion, synths aplenty covered by layers of vocals. This is all the best elements of Beach House with a dose of School of Seven Bells and something entirely fresh.
Lower Dens manages to experiment while still showing much restraint, and that is exemplified in the slightly campy, very slow ‘Candy’, a track with great production and very minimal, but crucial, keys.
‘Lion in the Winter’ is a very aptly titled two part song. The instrumental and ambient ‘part 1’ sounds is as much like a big predatory cat in the snow as a ship slowly lilting into dock amidst a thick smog. While part 2 has swaying hips, trust me on this one, this song has hips, and they move side to side beautifully.
Comparisons to Beach House are a good thing and they are easy to make when listening to the penultimate track, ‘Nova Anthem’. Lyrics like ‘In theory, you need this’ collude with a trippy sound to great results. The track’s five minutes feel like much more thanks to an experimental off-ramp which is taken with speed around the four minute mark. Smoothly implemented synths are folded into the track in a way which harkens back to The Beta Band. Synth fueled experimentalism can often carry pop tendencies, and this is a prime example of that.
Nootropics’ closer ‘In the End is the Beginning’ leaves you wanting more in the best way possible.
After two solid albums, we have not heard the last of Lower Dens, and that is a very good thing.
The Lumineers – The Lumineers
Release date: May 1
The Lumineers fill that all too well tred territory between folk and rock that has recently been filled by bands like Deer Tick, The Tallest Man on Earth and even, for those of you who listen to the radio, Mumford and Sons. Inventive cello and a voice tailor made for this type of music lifts this album to a higher plane.
Things get off to a great start as the stark ‘Flowers in Your Hair’ strips everything back and lets you enjoy the great vocals of vocalist Wesley Schultz and simple yet enjoyable drumming of Jeremiah Fraites. You will be forgiven to slapping your knee along to this one, the only thing really missing is a jug, and I mean that in a good way.
The earnest tone of the opener is flipped on its head on ‘Classy Girls’, a regular old ho-down which jokes about the kind of bars in which girls don’t kiss. ‘Submarine’ follows and adds more emphatic drumming that reminds us of The Dodos. The album’s second and third tracks are fun enough, but it is easy to say that they lack a little bit in substance, but hey, everything need not be heavy.
‘Dead Sea’ weighs things down a bit and is hardly fun, but it is without a doubt a highlight of the album. The Lumineers have serious cross-over potential, bridging that perilous gap between folks who balk at pop appeal and those who crave it, and this track shows why. This track can draw comparisons to niche favourite Tallest Man on Earth as easily as to someone like David Gray, I mean that as a (mostly) good thing. Click here to watch the song performed live and unplugged.
‘Ho Hey’ has an accompanying music video, and it is easy to see why, if Lumineers hope to launch themselves into Mumford and Sons level popularity (but hopefully not triteness) this is one of many tracks on this album which can get them there.
The next few tracks prove that Lumineers are aiming for a wide audience, solid song-writing pervades, but things begin to sound a little ‘paint by numbers’.
‘Charlie Boy’ breaks the mold slightly with dissonant production, Schultz’s voice is great, it’s even better in a cave, as shown on this track.
All in all, The Lumineers have released a fun album with solid songs, and if the radio is filled with a few more bands in this vein, I’ll take it over Ke$ha, if that’s how you spell it.