ALBUM REVIEWS: "Lost in the Dream" by The War on Drugs

“Lost in the Dream” by The War on Drugs

– By Austin Reed –


"Lost in the Dream" by The War on Drugs

Confession: I was a fairly idiotic teenager. I made a lot of mistakes—stupid ones. I let a lot of people down. High school was confusing, because I was faced with challenges that should have bore life-shaping lessons, but I’m not sure I ever saw those challenges through to completion. What ensued was a pile of unanswered questions strewn about like dirty laundry.

I think this is probably the unspoken storyline for most everyone who experienced adolescence as I did. It’s the whole, “No one is special because everyone is special,” argument phrased in a much less flattering context. As to be expected, these lessons would make their way into my life much later, but that didn’t make experiencing them in real-time any easier or more comfortable. Growing up is hard. Period.

That said, I was blessed with parents who possessed an uncanny penchant for compassion and self-awareness. They never pretended to be above my challenges. They loved hard and relentlessly, and they were by my side every step of the way. Granted: I didn’t do much to discourage this behavior. I was always completely honest with them. When I had my first beer, first cigarette, first joint and first kiss, they knew the next day, so it was probably easy for them to offer honest advice. In any case, my upbringing was rife with their version of morality. And it was such a beautiful version.

But there was always this one fragment of my upbringing that stayed with me in a much more visceral format: Life will never stop moving, so keep moving with it. Don’t stop. You’re allowed to feel, to acknowledge and to take note, but keep moving, because missing life due to an unwillingness to move forward is an unwillingness to grow.

Now, admittedly, this lesson eluded me for a really, really long time. I didn’t get it because it seemed arbitrary—like some reworded, phoned-in rendition of an Aesop adage. And unfortunately, not until just recently have I truly begun to understand the full scope and importance of what it means.

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SOUNDCLOUD: The War On Drugs – “Red Eyes”
Lost in the Dream is out March 18 via Secretly Canadian

Because it means a lot. And Lost In The Dream, The War On Drugs’ newest full-length, will be an overwhelmingly important fixture in my life for a long time because it illustrates just exactly how much it means.

The story of The War On Drugs is engaging to a fault, but going down that road would require text space that I probably don’t have. So, I’ll suffice it to say that it was the primitive brain child of Kurt Vile that was eventually handed to Adam Granduciel once Vile decided to split and pursue a solo endeavor. And Granduciel, a lyrically superior and melodically prodigious songwriter, transformed The War On Drugs from a psych-garage attempt into an ethereal-yet-unmistakably-tangible machine that sounds better than it ever did with Vile at the helm.

Dream succeeds as both an engaging stand-alone album and a flawless follow-up to The War On Drugs’ debut LP, Slave Ambient, a spectacular establishment for Granduciel’s vision. But Lost In The Dream goes above and beyond because it’s clean, calculated and undeniably digestible—things that probably couldn’t be said as easily about Ambient. Tracks like, “Under The Pressure,” “Burning,” and leadoff single, “Red Eyes,” demonstrate a relieving sense of comfort Granduciel has for everything happening around him. And “An Ocean In Between The Waves,” possibly Granduciel’s best song ever recorded, exceeds seven minutes in length but only seems to last a handful of seconds.

More often than not, I find comfort in comparing artists to other artists. It serves as a platform upon which I can build a bigger idea. But in this case, I don’t want to mention that Granduciel sometimes sounds like Dire Straits-era Mark Knopfler, or Don Henley-era Don Henley, because it would discredit the amount of unbridled authenticity he represents from the beginning of Dream to the very last seconds. Fortunately for me, it doesn’t matter. What Granduciel is doing here is without question his own. And it always will be.

With grace to spare, Lost In The Dream listens like the soundtrack to the best and the worst moments of life. It’s languid and lively in one breath, and it’s strict and understanding in the breath after that. But this sound Granduciel has curated over the years—a sound that will probably be labeled as psych-rock, though I really hope we can come up with some better term for it between now and then—is able to accomplish so much in so little time because it illustrates the scope of emotion Granduciel has experienced since Dream’s early stages.

“I want to make uplifting music,” Granduciel told The Guardian, “but lyrically I felt like I had to go into a part of myself I hadn’t done before in my songs or work harder at it. I needed to go there and see how far I could let myself go, and put into music the way I was feeling.”

Lost In The Dream, an album that actually isn’t set to release until next Tuesday, conveys with ridiculous precision exactly what my Mom and Dad tried explaining to me so many years ago. See, I’ve listened to this album exactly five times now, and despite how much I want it to keep going and going and not ever stop, it eventually stops. There isn’t a single second of this album that doesn’t make complete sense, except for the final moments, because they indicate the conclusion of an album that is as close to perfection as I’ve heard in some time. And there it is. There’s the lesson again. No matter how perfect or imperfect life is, it’ll never stop moving.

It’s a little early in the year, and I get that, but I can say with absolute confidence that when James and Dustin ask us to write up our top three albums of 2014 at the end of the year, Lost In The Dream will occupy the top spot. I’m not done talking about this record. Not by a long shot.

James Villa