Although lately it seems that traditional rock ‘n’ roll is on the comedown amidst the many and multiple electro-explosions that dominate the modern music scene, once in a while we’re reminded of why it is that rock will always be America’s sound, no matter how much trap and haus surrounds us. Lost In The Dream is the third studio album release by Philadelphia-formed group the War On Drugs, originally brought together by indie-king Kurt Vile and the band’s current frontman, Adam Granduciel. Though their 2011 release, Slave Ambient, was technically the band’s breakout album, Lost In The Dream is a far more ambitious and heart-rending Americana accomplishment. Created as a true group effort by all members of the band as they toured across the States, this record manifests as a quintessential on-the-road album, with songs both lyrically and sonically generating the feeling of wandering without a fixed destination. Each song, like the album as a whole, boasts a meticulously-crafted emotional and sonic build-up that reveals the turmoil and tribulations upon which Granduciel seems to be reflecting. What results from this anxiety is a profound, troubling and satisfying journey through America that lets us know that, eventually, we’ll get home safe.
Lost In The Dream is one of those albums that can and should be experienced from start to finish, a sense carefully orchestrated by Granduciel himself, who is known for his obsession with the album-making craft. The sonic journey begins with the elusive and semi-optimistic Under the Pressure, a nine-minute track of twangy guitar and bouncing keyboard describing :the arrival of a new day.” The track immediately expresses Granduciel’s dissatisfaction with the stresses of daily life, and you can tell right off the bat how seriously he’s going to be taking this album. He then jumps into the irresistibly catchy single “Red Eyes,” a similarly buoyant yet reflective track in which Vile’s inspiration is indisputable, as Granduciel shouts “I’ll be the one I can,” followed by a Vile-like “Woop!” The chorus is inescapable, delicious and heavy, epitomizing the dynamic combination of optimism and regret that serves as the album’s bedrock.
Each track that follows boasts its own unique emotional weight and captures its own snapshot of the American landscape that the band seems to be so familiar with. The slow, cool Suffering sounds like we’ve entered a colder, deserted part of the country in the dead of the night, generating a striking balance between basic sadness and impending optimism via Granduciel’s psychedlic, twingey guitar and hazy vocals. Tracks like Disappearing similarly float with a lamenting and nostalgic sound as Granduciel’s voice sinks into clouds and mountains, while others like An Ocean In Between The Waves come across as lighter and wispier, as if we’re bopping down a moonlit beach alone and a little happy-drunk.
The album’s self-proclaimed centerpiece and anthem emerges with Eyes To The Wind, a masterful track that conveys, for the first time in this tension-ridden album, a feeling of resolve and satisfaction as if Granduciel has found a direction and a final road to composure. The tune starts out with a Dylan-inspired country-vibe, asking, “Will you let it pull you in again?”—a question which we can’t help but feel is referring to the song itself and the album as a whole. The answer is yes. The track simultaneously pulls you into the album’s anxiety, but also sets you free into some fast-moving musical current, and surfaces as the first moment of the album where the band hints at some kind of spiritual release. The album moves onwards and upwards from this crux with two more tracks: Burning, a floating, Cure-like track with an ’80’s sound; and the title-track which slows, cools, settles and winds everything down.
By the time we hit the last track, In Reverse, it feels like we’re home, sitting on a porch with our friends being serenaded by a harmonica, a croony guitar and Granduciel’s addictive vocals. It’s an appropriately epic, eight-minute-long ballad that perfectly ties up the loose, heavy and anxious ends that compose the album, without undermining its emotional intensity and musical complexity. This conclusion isn’t, however, overly optimistic or sappy. We know that there’s still plenty of life and love and pain to come, but we’re pretty okay with it. In fact, we’re ready to hit the road and let Lost In The Dream pull us in again and again.