As topics for concept albums go, transhumanism—the belief that technology will allow us to overcome aging and endow people with “post-human” powers—sounds like something out of the seventies, when bands like Yes and the Alan Parsons Project ventured into the realm of science fiction. But the transhumanist-themed NOOTROPICS (Ribbon Music), the second album from the Baltimore-based LOWER DENS, is no art-rock throwback. Bandleader Jana Hunter began her career making home recordings as part of the freak-folk scene (she was the first artist signed to the label of scene standard-bearer—and fellow Houstonian—Devendra Banhart) before expanding her ambitions and instrumentation to create music of real force. The first Lower Dens album, 2010’s Twin-Hand Movement, was a minimalist yet driving guitar-rock record, with Hunter’s fleeting vocals used as part of the ambience. The formula continues with Nootropics, but Hunter steps more to the fore, and the band adds a deep stratum of keyboards and electronics to the mix. On songs like “Brains,” “Propagation,” and the album’s twelve-minute closer, “In the End Is the Beginning,” Hunter portends an eerie future where technology is as much a trap as a panacea. But despite the overarching ideas, this is a band as much about sound as thematics. They craft sinister rock atmospherics like no group since Joy Division,
and when Hunter breaks the surface, she transforms the hypnotic into the visceral.