“you’ve been out on the street
talking about the war with me”
Intoxicatingly tender heartland rock for broken hearts, Lost In The Dream finds Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs, delivering some driving, muscular rock and roll, on an album that is most assuredly a contender for one of the releases of the year, thus far. Lyrically and sonically this record is a work of deeply considered and deliberate craft (reportedly taking over 2 years to record). It’s a luminous and tautly cohesive exposition of gloomy grace, a luxuriant dream from which you will not be easily willing to awake.
The creative force behind The War On Drugs, Adam Granduciel, sings with the husky muted conversational tenor beloved of Bruce Springsteen, immediately involving, modest and deceptively nonchalant, a voice that occasionally grows nasal and rasping with excitement or pain, evoking Bob Dylan, so hauntingly that comparisons are inevitable. This album wears its vaunted influences like rugged emblems of intent, but it absorbs and builds upon its heroes rather than pays mawkish homage. Lost In The Dream is a work of original and standalone genius.
Opener ‘Under The Pressure’ begins with what sounds like a hundred paperclips being bounced on a table-top, a jarring synth of metallic fuzz that retreats with the arrival of the propulsive piano melody, on which the song is built. It stretches out and luxuriates in to its cruising groove for just shy of nine-minutes. It’s one of several tracks on this record which jam and glide confidently past the six-minute mark.
Single ‘Red Eyes’ has a strange, barely audible percussion ride around 1:02 that spurs it forward and builds to the explosive chorus. It isn’t clear what the effect is, the closest description would be the sound of Granduciel breathing sharply, rhythmically into one of the instrument mics to invite the coming crescendo. The scattering of spontaneous whoops and yelps from an otherwise melancholy singer, also serve to give the song a more exuberant, cathartic release.
The pace slows for ‘Suffering’, giving way to languid piano, meditative organ and distorted, echoing guitar. Driving beat returns for ‘An Ocean Between The Waves’ which unfolds in to a beautiful long-form guitar jam, reminiscent of Neil Young or, dare I say it, Mark Knopfler – that low-slung, expansive elegance and arcing, wandering guitar riffs revolving above a swell of uplifting organ.
Every song on this record blends seamlessly together, there is not an errant track or discordant sound to be found, it is very emphatically a piece of work intended to be listened to and absorbed as a full album. On a cohesive LP of standout tracks in which the quality is maintained throughout, ‘Eyes To The Wind’ in particular is a force of sad beauty. It sounds like an instant classic, so apparently effortlessly constructed that it has the feel of a forgotten standard, like a song you used to love but somehow haven’t heard in a long while. Understated sax, bittersweet piano and Granduciel’s deftly smooth voice sounding ever more raw with the mic deliberately levelled up.
Lost In The Dream is dressed throughout in echoes and murky atmosphere. The is also an album defined by piano, trumpet, harmonica, sax, organ, all manner of exotic synth, and rocketed along by an urgent drum-machine beat that occasionally blends in to human-powered percussion and a full-band, live-in-the-studio sound. For all the critical laurels already afforded this LP, and for all the earnest examinations of classical influence, this album also feels frequently like an excuse for nothing more cerebral than a good ole-fashioned jam session.
The War On Drugs have somehow here struck a balance between archetypal rock and roll and an album that is achingly and irrepressibly modern. As with most classic records, it’s propelled by a broken heart and has had a long gestation. It feels raggedly vintage in style but also defiantly contemporary. The War On Drugs have produced an album which has the familiar feel of a battered old leather smoking chair, something you can settle deeply in to and permit yourself time to ruminate, meditate, nurse your psychic wounds and get deliciously Lost In The Dream.