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Review: The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream (2014, Secretly Canadian)
Restless seems like a good word to describe The War On Drugs front man Adam Granduciel. His lyrics and melodies show a push and pull with the complexities of contemporary living, a yearning for a certain freedom that never sat as comfortable as it should have on the band’s first two full lengths. 2011’s Slave Ambient showed serious promise among its experimental, reverb-drenched passages, but it was a scattered effort – groups of refrains and reprises that didn’t quite mould together the urban and natural landscapes they evoked. Thankfully, Lost In The Dream, the bands third and undoubtedly most focused album, delivers a fresh consistency for the Philadelphia natives. It shows, perhaps, that three years back and forth on the road has paid off. The record fittingly cruises at a consistent pace along its sonic highways, and while it makes some bold detours, they never feel superfluous or uncertain.
The almost 9-minute opener, ‘Under The Pressure’, suggests in its early stages that Granduciel is still driftin’ – perhaps helplessly. The drum machine hi-hat that marks the tempo of the song is dipped into a whirl of delay and wobbly guitars that feel like they could spin out of control at any given moment. It is not long, however, before the gust of effects ceases and the staple War on Drugs steamrolling drum-groove kicks in. Lost In The Dream’s journey has truly begun, and these ‘jammy’ tangents appear many times over the record’s 60 minutes, oozing a cool sense of control along the way. Credit here is also due to drummer Patrick Berkery, who brings Granduciel’s drum-machines to life with live percussion. It is fitting that he joined the band after the release of Slave Ambient, as he incorporates many feels that provide the guidance and variation that was missing on their sophomore album. Even the album’s highlight ‘An Ocean In Between The Waves’ manages to burn brightly above a familiar forward-moving tempo, carefully layering its rich instrumentation until it gracefully collapses into ‘Disappearing’. Rich is a term that by no means is used casually in this context; baritone saxophones, vintage synthesisers, acoustic pianos and harmonica lay down a solid framework for Granduciel’s pedal-friendly guitar licks, each having their time to shine throughout the record.
‘Tight’ and ‘refined’ may be new words in discussions around The War On Drugs, but ‘restless’ still remains apt as ever for the themes and words Granduciel has put to paper for Lost In The Dream. On the albums anthemic centre-piece ‘Eyes To The Wind’, his anxieties and confusion are laid out quite plainly when he cries “Lost inside my head/ Is this the way I’ll be tonight again?” It is one of the many moments across the album where the veneer of Americana romanticism if lifted to reveal Granduciel’s real and relatable struggle with direction in his life. What is strikingly noticeable here (and at many points on the record) is a new attention to detail in the mix, with Granduciel opting out of his usual reverb-trailed howls for a raw and clear vocal sound. The choice provides a certain intimacy that helps his lines pack a true melancholy punch, however there are still some moments of unmistakable triumph. “I’m just a burning man/ Trying to keep this shit from turning over again” Granduciel almost yells on ‘Burning’, and it suggests that the forward-moving and reflective nature of music may be his only therapy while “under the pressure”.
There’s enough ‘woo’s!’ peppered throughout Lost In The Dream to suggest there is something cathartic and endearing for Granduciel in not only making music – but sharing it. He makes no attempt to hide the sluggish and painstaking process of crafting songs like these, a transparency not so evident in the bands earlier releases. ‘In Reverse’, the album’s closer, sounds like some Sigur Rós might have had some rotation in the van between Springsteen records, a testament to the prowess Granduciel exercises in slowly adding each shimmering coat to create something undeniably explosive. At this juncture, Lost In The Dream is emblazoned as an apt title for such a bold and dynamic work. Many of its lines show the deep pain and unease of living at odds with ‘reality’, an ideal we have all experienced in some form. But there is still a sense of beauty and mystery within the fantastical and vivid palettes of these songs that reflect the depths of the human condition, for better or for worse.
9 out of 10
Lost In The Dream is available now, stream the single ‘Red Eyes' here.
The War On Drugs | Red Eyes