The War on Drugs’ third album Lost in the Dream beautifully captures the feeling of a man’s loneliness and paranoia, and the behemoth sense of scale to which these emotions can dominate the human psyche.
Released on March 18, 2014, the band’s latest record has garnered praise and accolades industry wide landing itself on many best-of end of the year lists. This album is a hot summer afternoon haze that slowly swirls around, lulling you into a half-conscious lethargic daze; all the while an ominous black storm calmly moves on the horizon crackling and exploding with energy.
Lost in the Dream is a self described solo project by The War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel, who wrote and recorded almost the entirety of the album himself. Granduciel enlisted of the help of touring band mates Dave Hartley (bass), Robbie Bennett (keys), Charlie Hall (drums), and Anthony LaMarca (guitar) to contribute on the record, but was adamant in having them record their pieces exactly as he saw fit.
This singular vision gives Lost in the Dream a very personal feel throughout its 60 minute and 27 second run time; Granduciel masterfully uses his music as a medium to connect with the listener, using their own misgivings and insecurities as catalysts that drive the emotional core of the album.
With an average song length of 6 minutes and 3 seconds, each track on the album is given the space it needs to breathe. The War on Drugs work every song in such a natural manner that not a single one manages to drag on; every drum hit, piano stroke, guitar hum, and vocal hollar feels deliberate and fits into place perfectly.
Lost in the Dream is a callback to blue-collar, journeyman rock and roll of 1980’s. You can feel the influences of Bruce Springsteen and Fleetwood Mac coursing through the entirety of the album; a perfect harmonious blend of true Americana rock and roll mixed with modern “synth-scapes” and sensibilities.
Adam Granduciel’s lyrics have a Bob Dylan-esque tambor about them. Verses throughout the album are breathy and full of inflection, with each string of words seemingly a labor to get out of his chest and mind.
The first and second tracks on the album ‘Under the Pressure’ and ‘Red Eyes’ are both great vessels for Granduciel’s voice. As the tempo on either song increases the vocals follow suit picking up with ardor and restlessness. The energy of the songs build up organically and just as it seems things are going to wind down Granduciel howls a pent up “Whooooooooooo!” and all hell breaks loose with guitars, synths, and drums exploding into a passionate, foot thumping, sonic plea.
Many of the songs on Lost in the Dream are anchored by understated synthesizer measures forming walls of sound that slowly modulate creating brooding pulses. These pulses make up the foundation upon which the rest of the instrumentation sits. ‘Disappearing,’ the fifth track on the album, has an almost euphoric ringing to its synthesizer that sits at the back of the song’s sound mix. It feels cloudy and opaque, giving the mental image of a silhouette walking away in the distance gradually being engrossed in a heavy mist. This is the most sorrow filled song on the record, making the listener reflect on their own relationships that slowly burned out leaving their companions as just shadows shimmering on the nebulous horizon.
The brooding synthesizer walls of sound may form the backbone of many tracks on the album, but reverb soaked guitar riffs and feathery piano sections provide the exclamation marks that make it something truly unique. ‘Suffering’ and ‘An Ocean In Between the Waves,’ the third and fourth tracks on the album respectively, both create bright conversations between guitar and piano.
‘An Ocean In Between the Waves’ has a viscous pace throughout that continuously ramps upwards. The modulated guitar has a fiery inflection about it that gets hotter and hotter until it finally erupts like a volcano in the songs rip-roaring guitar solo. Damn, this guitar solo is so molten hot and frenetic that it could set the Earth’s atmosphere ablaze. Piano undercurrents sprinkled throughout the solo serve only to cool the combustible guitar riffs and provide balance to the song as a whole.
‘Suffering’ is the slowest song on the record, and its laid back drum beat provides the perfect setting for Granduciel’s signature sounding reverb dripping guitar riffs to phase in and out of the foreground. Each time the guitar quiets it seems to ask a question, and almost immediately the punchy voice of a soaring piano answers its calls creating a delicate dance between the two instruments.
Lost in the Dream beautifully lays out an audial manifestation of the doldrums that we all feel at one point or another in our lives. Granduciel and company craft this melancholy soundscape as a means of understanding our own regrets and uncertainties. We must then choose to grow from this newfound insight and move forward in life embracing the haze of our pasts on our own terms to avoid becoming eternally lost in the dream of our former selves.