I was having trouble describing what Lower Dens are trying to do on their new album Nootropics so I looked up the definition of “nootropics”. It is the collective term for 'smart drugs'; the narcotics that supposedly can enhance memory and intelligence, and it is derived from two Greek words which mean “mind” and “to bend”. This fact certainly helped me get a better handle on this 51 minute, shifting, dream-like collection of songs that manages to move between lengthy but intricate post-punk, folk melodies, drone and motorik repetition with a deceptive ease.

Lower Dens were formed in 2009 by Jana Hunter (vocals, guitar) who had already established herself in the psych-folk world with a couple of albums on Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic (Vetiver)'s label Gnomonsong. She teamed up with Geoff Graham (vocals, bass), Abram Sanders (drums) and Will Adams (guitar) and |Nootropics is their second album, following their well received debut Twin Hand Movement. Although Lower Dens are very much a band project, Jana’s voice is a key element within it, and fans of her solo records will find plenty to latch onto here.

That voice stands out straight away on opening track 'Alphabet Song', where it is underscored by a minimal guitar and snare drum, evoking the likes of Young Marble Giants, Disintegration-era Cure and This Mortal Coil. The lyrics are intriguing, and it is a surprise to find a phrase like "imperious desire" in the refrain. The chorus of 'Propagation' includes the words "population incandescent," a reference to our need as a species to keep breeding and consuming. It is quite a feat to blend political and philosophical lyrics in with such subtlety, in fact it's probably something that hasn't done been as well since the early Stereolab singles.

Another enticing influence becomes apparent on 'Brains' and its instrumental coda, 'Stem', with motorik drumming and minimal bass line evoking the spirit of Neu! and La Dusseldorf. This is one of the more up-tempo pieces on the album and it works well.

The aforementioned 'Propagation' takes the pace down. It is awash with reverbed voices and is pleasantly psychedelic. 'Lamb' is similar in tone but is a great centrepiece for Jana Hunter. This is the best vocal performance here, it is quite beautiful but manages to contain a heavy dose of distress and sadness. 'Candy' is perhaps the closest they come to a pop song as it features a strong melody and a skeletal guitar line worthy of a few classic post-punk bands.

Every song seems to take you somewhere a little bit different. 'Lion in Winter pt 1' is a successful attempt at ambient drone whilst 'Lion in Winter pt 2' is more like new wave with its pulsing bass line and synth parts.

'Nova Anthem' takes its inspiration from the William Burroughs novel Nova Express and this fits with the lyrical themes of Nootropics as that book was about the relationship between humans and machines, and social control. The music is centred around a long droning folk melody, and it is quite haunting.

The epic closing track 'In the End is the Beginning' is blissful for all of its twelve minutes. Again the vocal melody drifts over a gentle pulse with some brilliantly edgy guitar providing a counterpoint to Jana's voice.

Weaving melodies that hark back to Jana Hunter’s solo records, with mechanical, often bleak instrumentation, the music here echoes the lyrical concerns – fear of the future, concerns for the development of the human race, and about our relationship with technology. This is an album that will reward repeated listens and unravelling and should be welcomed for its ambition.