The War On Drugs
Lost in the Dream



March 16th, 2014 | 852 replies

Release Date: 2014 | Tracklist

Review Summary: I'm in my finest hour

The War on Drugs’ 2011 record Slave Ambient was an impressively layered pastiche of roots rock and noisy navel-gazing, lush and pockmarked with nooks and crannies, the stitches holding together Petty and Dylan with Neu! and My Bloody Valentine barely visible. It stumbled and soared through a negative image of the American heartland while injecting it with some modern indie sensibilities, but the band’s distinctive tone, introduced on 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues and tirelessly honed after the departure of founding member Kurt Vile, remained stronger than ever. Letting yourself float along never felt so good.

It’s a testament to Adam Granduciel, the founder and main creative force behind the Philadelphia four-piece, then, that in hindsight Slave Ambient merely feels like a precursor to the band’s possibilities: Lost in the Dream arrives with a thesis meant to explore them fully. “Well the comedown here was easy / like the arrival of a new day / but a dream like this gets wasted / without you,” Granduciel sings on “Under the Pressure,” both an introduction to the album’s sense of purpose and a reference to the events that led to its creation. Granduciel split with his girlfriend during the early stages of the album’s recording, and Lost in the Dream spends most of its time wondering how to pick up the pieces of a broken American dream.

It’s a story told in bits and pieces. She’s “the only one, like an illusion,” on “Under the Pressure.” Arms meant to comfort are hostile and cold on the similarly chilly “Disappearing,” which feels like Granduciel floating through a vacuum soundtracked by Tangerine Dream. With “Suffering,” Granduciel knows that they’re “both gonna fake it,” even though the pain that song contemplates is powerfully real: “like the feeling that you gave me, like a snowflake through the fire / I’ll be frozen in time / but you’ll be here suffering.” This sort of cracked ballad has never been a hallmark of the War on Drugs, but perhaps it should be. “Suffering” may be the most beautiful composition Granduciel has put to record, a simple portrait of a relationship past its expiration date and moving on pure inertia while guitars curlicue along the edges of Granduciel’s wounded vocals. It’s a moment that feels gorgeously, hopelessly suspended, both for Granduciel and the listener.

That “Suffering” is followed by the motorik-meets-Neil Young groove of “An Ocean in Between the Waves” initially feels like a mistake in the track listing, but it fits a wider theme of Lost in the Dream. Expect the unexpected; light out onto the highway; let the dream take you – any of a number of classic rock, stoner-fed bullshit clichés can fit comfortably here, but it’s more than that. The reverb that permeates this record is more than a design choice; the hazy spaces that separate Granduciel’s stained vocals from the instruments, feedback sputtering along like radio signals from a station a thunderstorm away, all of it combines to create an utterly unique sensation of weightlessness. There’s a vast expanse to be explored, and while it’s easy (not to mention a joy) to get lost, Granduciel remains a steady guide. There’s all the verve and naked empathy of the best of his classic rock forebears, with none of the bombast or contrivances. Lost in the Dream is a long record, to be sure, yet it never overstays its welcome. That’s an underrated trait – the band’s ability to make compositions that stretch a single disc’s limits seem normal, even necessary, is dreamlike in its own right. It’s hard not to see the influence of Vile here, whose bigger-is-better approach to 2013’s Wakin on a Pretty Daze resulted in one of last year’s best albums and the previous high point in this stoned Americana genre him and Granduciel have more or less defined. An album like this doesn’t come easy, and in the pristine, airtight production and the effortlessly expansive vibe the record projects, it’s easy to miss an artist now working at the peak of his abilities. Granduciel’s painstaking recording process could almost pass for an abusive relationship of his own, but after fifteen months and the endless tinkering that Granduciel has become known for, Lost in the Dream sounds like a record greater than the sum of its parts.

All the different factors at play here create something that isn’t afraid to deviate and take strange turns and reversals, contrasts that rub up against each other and create some brilliant sparks. Consider the contrasts in Granduciel himself, seemingly emanating from the echo chamber of a farm silo on ascendant first single “Red Eyes,” while camping out by the fire, intimate and open, on the title track. Lyrics sometimes aren’t even necessary, given the interstitial blinking lights of “The Haunting Idle.” The emotions that rise unbidden to the surface are as insistent as the plink of the piano on the triumphant “Burning” and as reckless as the frenzied swirl of guitars that tears through “An Ocean in Between the Waves” like a hurricane, Granduciel’s voice hustling, frantic to keep up. Centerpiece “Eyes to the Wind” is a case study in the record’s dynamics all on its own, starting with its feet planted firmly in Springsteen and Seger before letting itself be borne aloft on eddies of saxophone and piano, a climax that is as rousing and life-affirming as anything the band has ever done. It’s a dream you never want to end.

Eventually, though, you wake up. While the piercing guitar tone and atmospherics on closer “In Reverse” at first call to mind drifting in a fog of crushed up anti-depressants and lighters held aloft, Granduciel’s vocals, clearer than ever, break the murk. “I don’t mind you disappearing / ‘cause I know you can be found / maybe livin’ on the dark side . . . when we’re livin’ in the moment / losing our grasp, makin’ it last,” he sings, before the catharsis arrives, less titanic than perhaps you might have expected but crushingly affecting in its simple honesty: “Sometimes I wait for the cold wind to blow / as I struggle with myself right now / as I let the darkness in / but I don’t mind chasing you / through the back ways for keys / it evaporates and fades, like a grand parade.” It’s a revelation in acceptance, reality finally coring through the dream of the perfect relationship, the major chords in the chorus lifting Granduciel up to a more lucid place than he’s ever been. Lost in the Dream is a sad record, but it’s also a hopeful one, enriched by the journey of its own heartbreak and the possibilities that remain. Granduciel understands where he has to go from here, “in reverse,” away from the crippling doubts of the past and the insidiousness of what might have been. Yet the most telling part of the record remains the final lyric: “I’m moving.”

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user ratings (1081)
other reviews of this album
cryptside (4.5)
Hazy perfection....

chevered (4.5)
Hopeful heartache...

Nick Mongiardo (4.5)
Its engrossing atmosphere will make you feel a wide range of emotions....

Comments:Add a Comment 
March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 4.7 | Sound Off

this is all i've listened to the past three weeks

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 3.0

Beast review, can't wait to listen to this.

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I really like your reviews, Rudy. Did get a little lost in that first sentence though

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 4.0

overwhelmingly good

Staff Reviewer
March 16th 2014


I've grown to like bands like this one, lately. Gotta check this.

Good review, but that goes without saying.

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 5.0

kick-ass review. this album has me by the balls as well.

Suffering really is gorgeous. the album is packed with those slow-burner vocal melodies that might not grab you on the first listen but, fuck, when they do... others were definitely more immediate though - "I don't mind you disappearing..."

March 16th 2014


omg need this hard

nice work as always rudy

March 16th 2014


Album's fab will acquire

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 5.0

this is all i've listened to the past three weeks

Same here, it is utterly utterly magnificent. It's been a long time since an album hit me as hard as this. Fantastic follow-up to Slave Ambient.

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 5.0

Also, this is a really good review. It really succeeds in capturing the essence of the music; something I still have difficulty with to pinpoint here.

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 4.5

This is a really good album, and the review does it justice.

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

"this is all i've listened to the past three weeks"


this. such a great album

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 5.0

Probably gonna end up 5-ing this one.

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 4.5

"this is all i've listened to the past three weeks" [3]

Seriously though, this album is incredible. Does anyone have any recs for things that sound similar? (that aren't The Boss or Slave Ambient)

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off


Kurt Vile - Smoke Ring for My Halo

Dire Straights - Brothers In Arms

The Travelling Wilburys - Vol. 1

Wild Nothing - Nocturne

Real Estate - Days

The last two are more an overall vibe thing but not a "oh yeah this sounds exactly like..."

March 16th 2014


maybe i need more time with this because right now i think slave ambient is way better

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I think Slave Ambient had more of a post-punk thing going on with the drums that acted as a

counterbalance to the massive amounts of Mark Knopfler and Tom Petty influence in the hooks and

melodies, where Lost In the Dream puts more of an emphasis on bringing out the dream pop ambience

between the cracks and shifts that into the spotlight. The easiest way to put it is that Slave Ambient

was hazy, and Lost in the Dream is lush.

March 16th 2014


rudy our tastes rarely overlap, if ever, but youve always been one of my favorite reviewers on this site (prob said this before) even though ive only heard maybe 2-3 albums out of the 100+ youve reviewed. your writing style and use of imagery is something ive always admired.

anyway another great review here. think im actually gonna check this one out cause im in a shoegazey mood

March 16th 2014


Album Rating: 4.2

Monster review, perhaps slightlyyyy too long but I can see where you're coming from, especially if the album is as good as you say it is (haven't had a chance to get my hand on it yet). The vibe I get from this review is that this album sounds like a slightly more dreary and intimate composition than Slave Ambient, and if that really is the case, goddamn I can't wait to pick this up lol.

March 16th 2014


speaking of top heavy, I hope 2014 isn't like that for music. so far, 2014 has been incredible and, for me, easily beaten 2013 in terms of albums I personally enjoy

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