ALBUM REVIEW: The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream

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Prime Listening

The War on Drugs | ARTIST

Lost in the Dream | ALBUM

Secretly Canadian | LABEL

18 March 2014 | RELEASE DATE

9.6 | 10

The War on Drugs, as founded by Ronald Reagan, has been a failure. The War on Drugs, as founded by Adam Granduciel, is anything but. He made his first great artistic leap on the stunning Slave Ambient (2011), which wrapped itself around the listener like a warm blanket. In many ways, his latest, Lost in the Dream, is a natural progression from the nighttime feel of Ambient, finding Granduciel immersed in the dream, long after Ambient rocked him to sleep. And I mean that in the best of terms; even today, there’s something comforting about Slave Ambient’s hymn-like grace and blurred lines. But Lost in the Dream is somehow still a better, more focused album, and the clearest signal yet that the War on Drugs is something very special.

Granduciel sets the bar high for himself from the get-go, as the opening “Under the Pressure” pops with a surging intensity seldom heard from the band before. At nearly 9 minutes, the song wastes no time asserting itself as one of Granduciel’s best compositions to date, with the last several minutes easing us into the dream world we’ll live in for the next hour and change. “Red Eyes” follows, and as the album’s only prerelease single, it now greets us as an old friend, one we’re always willing to let back into our lives. The song builds on the simmering intensity found on “Pressure,” exploding into a million little pieces.

Whereas ex-War on Drugs member Kurt Vile’s last album, the equally gratifying Wakin on a Pretty Daze, succeeded based on Vile’s calm, cool and collected compositions, Dream’s  punchier moments are at the crux of the album’s success, while the slower moments help flesh out the album’s overall feel. “You’ll be here, suffering,” he empathetically sings on the gorgeous slow burner “Suffering.” On first listen, the song could seem too safe and relaxed for even someone as relaxed as Granduciel, but on repeated listens, the song’s strongest qualities shine through. Some wonderful, restrained guitar work from Granduciel props the song up, while his emotive delivery gives the song added weight and. therefore, purpose.

The album owes the majority of its sound to at-this-time out of touch musical touchtones, most notably 70s and 80s “classic” rock. But instead of retreading old ground, Granduciel sets his sights on establishing his own narrative amidst a familiar backdrop. “Eyes to the Wind” recalls 70s-era Bob Dylan, and is somehow able to avoid sounding derivative or impersonal. “Burning” is the great, lost Bruce Springsteen relic, carrying with it the energy and resiliency found on Springsteen’s greatest cuts, just without the pulpit. But even with his forefathers looming large over the album’s sonic traits, there’s something intrinsically singular about Lost in the Dream. Successfully imitating his inspirations isn’t the end goal of Dream, but rather the means to which Granduciel achieves his ultimate objective. It’s the feeling of knowing you’ve been here before, but the space is completely renovated.

By the time the title track rolls in, Granduciel sounds almost out of breath. He has a lot of thoughts on his mind on the track, and when he sings “love’s the key to the things that you see,” it damn near melts your heart. The closing “In Reverse” makes sure the album ends on an emphatic note, with light guitar strumming slowly giving morphing into a bittersweet tale of longing and hope. “Calling out your name in the darkness,” he sings, wading through the dark recesses of his mind. “And I don’t know mind you disappearing / Cause I know you can be found,” he assures himself. “We’re just living in the moment / Making our path / Losing our grasp / Through the grand parade,” he surmises later, unlocking a door he never gave up hope he could open. It’s a simple message, one we’ve all heard before. But like the rest of Dream, it’s framed in a way that only Granduciel could conceive. He accomplishes a lot on the album, but most importantly, he’s finally carved out a space for himself in the world, one with his own distinct imprint. Being lost in the dream sounds like exactly where Granduciel is meant to be.

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