Photography by Shawn Brackbill
Lower Dens almost never was. Jana Hunter, the androgynous, bisexual 34-year-old who leads the group, had released three solo records in as many years, and she felt spent. “I grew disenchanted with performing and bringing the intimate nature of my songs to a public arena,” she says. “I decided that I was going to quit music, but before I did, I would take a band on one last tour to see friends around the country.”
That band became Lower Dens, and it lasted far beyond that tour. In 2010, it released Twin Hand Movement, an album of contemplative, guitar-driven, ambient rock that landed them high-profile gigs with indie juggernauts Beach House and Deerhunter. The relative success readied Hunter and her band for their second album, Nootropics. “It was an intense recording project,” Hunter says. “We stayed at the studio, we all lived around each other 24 hours a day. It was fun, but also a little stinky and wild.”
Nootropics, named for substances designed to improve mental capacities, will fittingly make you pay attention. The album sounds cleaner than its predecessor and benefits from the addition of keyboards and more intricate orchestration.
“Brains,” the breathtaking first single, melds a marching-band drumbeat’s intensity with meandering guitars and Hunter crooning and chanting like she’s casting a spell.
While the band has discussed going further into the unknown -- possibly releasing recordings of experimental noise -- Hunter isn’t looking too far ahead. “We’re at a point where we can make a living off of this, but even before that was the case, I was much happier playing basements with this band than playing clubs as a solo musician,” Hunter says. “As long as you’re playing music you like, you don’t need much more than that.”
Nootropics (Domino Records) comes out May 1.