Some records are just made to be a soundtrack to transience. Take The War on Drugs’ newest release, Lost in the Dream, for starters: put the record on before a long drive and even the most mundane landscape will register like a film montage being projected through your windscreen. There is something familiar about frontman Adam Granduciel’s expansive soundscapes—he takes Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty’s blue-collar brand of Americana and paints over it with a translucent shoegaze monochrome. The result is ten glossy and nostalgic tracks set to inspire unshakeable wanderlust.
On ‘An Ocean In Between The Waves’, Granduciel, backed by Patrick Berkery’s driving drums, invokes a Dylan-esque sense of contemplation—“How can I surround myself in time and time again?” he wonders. “How can I be free?” Issues of personal liberation pervade Lost in the Dream and Granduciel tackles these age-old platitudes in a suitable, deadpan drawl.
At one time, The War On Drugs counted Kurt Vile as a member of their line-up, though he left after the release of the band’s debut record, Wagonwheel Blues in 2008. The split was reportedly not an acrimonious one, and shades of Vile’s laconic diction can be heard in the voice of his former collaborator. Yet, Granduciel’s own approach is, at times, too minimalistic to sustain momentum. ‘The Haunting Idle’ marks an utter deceleration— here, three minutes worth of reverbed guitar lines refract and deflect off of sporadic string embellishments.
As the album’s title suggests, Lost in the Dream is sure to leave listeners feeling as though they’re wandering direction-less through an astral dreamscape. The most rooted and accessible song on the record is ‘Red Eyes’, a hurried rock n’roll gem bolstered by echoes of Born in the USA. In spite of the proletarian ambitions that have come to define their musical predecessors, The War On Drugs insert an ambient distance into their music that keeps it from being wholly radio-friendly. The lustrous piano of ‘Eyes To The Wind’ begs comparisons to alt-country favourites Wilco. Where Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is made for sun-soaked drives through America’s cornfields and rust belt towns, Lost In The Dream puts these places out of focus, removing specificity and any contrived sense of folksy charm.
Granduciel doesn’t wax sentimental on the heartland that inspired some of the greatest songs in his lyrical lineage. He registers observations about his surroundings, but lets them slip away into an infinite past, only to be dwelt upon as he continues to move forward. On the album’s title track, he wonders if he is “lost in the dream/or just the silence of a moment”, admitting that “sometimes it’s hard to tell”. And, like many a dream, the music of the The War On Drugs presents itself with uncanny familiarity. Lost In The Dream takes you to a place that you know in its essence, though its image has been distorted. Granduciel thrives in the enigmatic space he has created between beloved 80s rock and spaced-out, sonic dreamscapes, and the disorientation is sublime.