The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
by Mike Doub (Journalism/Psychology), published March 19th 2014
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
The War on Drugs’ breakout album, 2011’s Slave Ambient, kicked off with a track called “Best Night.” That song, amid bubbly synths and dreamy guitar, detailed the headspace a person deeply down on his luck and “cursed” – as far from the titular “best night” as possible. On their fantastic new album Lost in the Dream things haven’t changed much for the better, but the hardships are closer to home. Opening track “Under the Pressure” for example details the impending end of a relationship and the fear of that end approaching. That relationship comes up quite a few times on the album, often in the past tense, and the added autobiographical edge of these stories adds weight to singer Adam Granduciel’s Dylan-esque inflection. For the most part these are not happy songs.
Don’t feel too guilty if you don’t notice that at first though. The music on Lost in the Dream is easily some of the lushest that the War on Drugs have recorded to date, evoking both 80s Springsteen and the layered psychedelia of Spiritualized and remarkably positing the two as logical shared influences. But more than either of those two artists, Lost in the Dream’s closest comparison is last year’s Wakin’ on Pretty Daze, released by former War on Drugs band member Kurt Vile. Both albums feature an intense devotion to texture, and eschew some of the immediate pleasures of their predecessors for longer compositions. Both also show their artists working at their peak and scream “opus” from a mile, though Granduciel’s less committed to “pillowy clouds” than Vile and more to, y’know, working through some of his shit. On Lost in the Dream he does so by belting out his emotional pain like a battle cry, and indulging in the occasional “woo!” when appropriate (it’s more often than you might think).
That attitude bleeds into the music too, and Lost in the Dream continues the band’s pairing of lyrical anguish with triumphant arrangements. Songs like “Burning” and “Red Eyes” could fit comfortably on Springsteen’s locked and loaded Born in the U.S.A., with their anthemic guitars sounding more authentically Bruce than Bruce does these days. Elsewhere “Eyes in the Wind” and “Lost in the Dream” play like revisionist history for anyone still sore at the memory of Dylan in the ‘80s (harmonica and synthesizers, who knew?). Those two loom large over Lost in the Dream, but the record is undeniably Granduciel’s, whose unique sonic palette leads him to moments of cross-genre beauty that Springsteen and Dylan would honestly be lucky to reach.
Take “Suffering.” The song opens up with a melody that reeks of despair, and the band navigates the song deftly with interplay between aqueous lead guitar and some power ballad piano. It’s a gorgeous mix between 2010s indie and what would be ‘80s cheese in another context, and as you consider hitting replay it’s upstaged by the next track, “An Ocean in Between the Waves.” That song ‘s krautrock drum groove and driving bass builds and builds during its 7 minutes (a length long for most albums not named Lost in the Dream) until it reaches up and tears the roof off with a scorching guitar solo near the end. And then “Disappearing” follows, which is yet another album highlight. Moments like these permeate Lost in the Dream, whose embarrassment of riches doesn’t falter once over the course of an hour. There are instances – the 3 minute fadeout on “Under the Pressure,” instrumental “the Haunting Isle” – where the pace slows to a crawl, but these hypnotic passages are ultimately Lost in the Dream in microcosm. Which is to say that listening to the beautiful, early album-of-the-year contender is often like, well, getting lost in a dream.
Key tracks: “Red Eyes,” “Suffering,” “An Ocean in Between the Waves”