Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

Lost in the Dream, the third studio album by Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs, presents us…

Lost in the Dream, the third studio album by Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs, presents us with front man, Adam Granduciel’s, emotional wasteland of solitude and depression twisted and wrought over a year of late-night contemplation and anxiety.  Yet, looking closer, this collection of songs has been elevated into something that not only celebrates this pain as a form of creative impulsion, but also presents listeners with a shared liberation. Seeped in an expanse of gleaming detail and an acute sense of communication and openness as a form of healing, it’s safe to say that this is their finest album to date. 

As a follow-up to their brilliant 2011 album Slave Ambient, it’s evident that the looped and hazy late-1980s-strain of experimentalism has been wavered slightly by a stronger focus to move away from the influence of frequent comparisons made to classic American songwriters (Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Nick Drake, Bruce Springsteen, the list goes on) and rather use their musical prowess as a personal benchmark for the ‘midnight vibe’ he so wished to (and certainly did) achieve on this album. Obsession may have nearly destroyed him, but it certainly assisted in the making of this near-perfection.

Lost in the Dream was not only conceived in the wake of a break-up from his long-term girlfriend, but also in the wake of a halt in routine touring with friends. A void opened up, leaving him to face questions and contemplate life, all of which he’d once been able to shake off easily with so many other distractions. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this album became the one and only thing he could put his mind to, and his penchant for perfection was put into overdrive as he intently worked on the minutiae to create bigger sounding songs, filled with opulent instrumentation. Yet, the real struggle for him came in the search for something or someone to sing about and for. When loneliness, paranoia and dejection clouded his thoughts, what else could there be? However, it is exactly these emotions that have allowed for people to connect with these songs on a more intimate level. 

Granduciel’s voice, trusty in its Dylan-like enunciation, holds a purpose and bulk unlike anything we’ve heard from him before. ‘Under the Pressure’, the opening track, sets the emotive and sonic tone of the album. Sorrowful lyrics, such as “When it all breaks down, and we’re runaways/Standing in the wake of our pain/And we stare straight into nothing/But call it all the same”, fracture through the seeming innocuous and relaxed atmospheres so expertly crafted through faraway-sounding melodies, budding guitar arrangements and upbeat drums. The true soul of the track, however, is not revealed until a sweep of dynamism elevates the track into a whirlwind of grandeur: synth flourishes drift through thick guitar licks, and an uproarious tone sets in to drive the track through to its end. The genius of Lost in the Dream lies in these soul-shattering transitions, all of which are capable of blowing the wind out your chest and prickling up your skin. Despite these tracks being long, some spanning nearly nine minutes in length, their intrigue is maintained and their expressiveness improves over time.

Lead single, ‘Red Eyes’, takes the track on a swift uphill to a gushing, on-the-road anthem, capable of getting feet tapping, but also heartfelt memories flowing. Feelings are prone to clash throughout the album, but there’s something pretty exhilarating about wanting to cry and laugh at the same time. Acoustic guitars abound, lively piano chords and soft strings and synths adorn throbbing drums, and Granduciel’s impassioned whoops and cries make it one of the most powerful tracks on the album. However, not all songs on the album hold that same vivacity. Tracks such as, ‘Suffering’, ‘Disappearing’, and ‘Lost in the Dream’ are all slower, but feel rawer in emotion. ‘Suffering’, for instance, takes the listener on a down-tempo guitar stroll through the experience of loneliness, while ‘Disappearing’ is inundated by soft instrumental cries, whether they’re the affecting bouts of harmonica or a guitar solo. The hushed poignancy of these tracks has a knack of lingering in the mind for a while after they have fizzled out.

Self-doubt resounds in the clipped slow-burned, ‘An Ocean Between the Waves’, with questioning lyrics “I’m in my finest hour/Can I be more than just a fool?” creeping in. While the influence of Dylan can be heard most clearly on acoustic campfire anthem, ‘Eyes to the Wind’, where strong piano chords and the shuddering harmonica lift the track to a stellar and optimistic crescendo, diverging from his grievances about his emotional and physical state: “I’m all alone here, living in darkness.” ‘The Haunting Idle’ brings to life a rich study in instrumentalism, only to be followed by the groovy and upbeat Springsteen-esque number, ‘Burning’, which looks joyfully ahead, Granduciel singing “Wide awake, I rearrange the way I listen in the dark/Dreaming of starting up again”, all surrounded by strumming chords and nimble keys.  ‘In Reverse’, the closing track, is a soft goodbye, gently easing us through its waves of tentative guitar strums. The sense of a shared suffering comes through in this final track, and boy, is it comforting.

Despite Adam Granduciel citing a myriad of influences from the late 1980s in his latest Lost in the Dream, there is something very much singular about what he has achieved here: he has breathed life into classic songwriting, making you believe that there is energy yet in such an age-old craft. A deep attachment is wrought through repeated listens to the sprawling and hypnotic tracks, and an incredible amount of reverence for this man is built-up as we are encouraged to enter this world of pain he has experienced over this album’s creation. Lost in the Dream is a spellbinding masterpiece.

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