The War on Drugs
Lost in the Dream
Philly indie rockers the War on Drugs admittedly hit my sweet spot when it comes to their sound: they create dreamy psychedelic rock with an Americana soul, sort of Wilco’s experimental side under a cloud of guitar haze. The band started out with 2008’s freewheeling Wagonwheel Blues, where they had fuzz-rocker Kurt Vile in their band as sort of a lo-fi Dylan-worshipping indie band. Since, Kurt Vile has left to do his own thing (which we have loved every minute of), and since the War on Drugs have gotten even more similar to Vile’s music: hazy, sonic explorations filled with atmospheric guitar, synth sounds, and front man Adam Granduciel’s wistful vocals. On their latest, Lost in the Dream, the band has never sounded so confident musically and anxious emotionally, making this a thrilling and wistful ride.
Not a lot of bands can get away with 9-minute album openers, but War on Drugs does with “Under the Pressure”, Lost in the Dream’s best song and in my opinion, the best song in their entire catalog. Opening out of a haze of reverbed drum loops and guitar fine-tuning, comes a strident piano line and a shuffling rhythm that nervously propels “Under the Pressure” along. Granduciel’s vocals spring out of the haze like a sign of light, sort of channeling Dylan (Jacob Dylan that is, when the Wallflowers were at the height of their powers), and when Granduciel’s vocals aren’t doing the heavy lifting, the synth keyboard and psych guitar make a nice pairing for exploring the space.
On “An Ocean in Between the Waves”, Granduciel and company get away with a propulsive Arcade Fire-style arena rocker, but unlike the Canadian indie giants who tend to be a bit too over-serious and overbearing at times, the War on Drugs never loses an element of whimsy and the critical moments on the song are more subtle and developing. “Eyes to the Wind” channels the hopeful Americana spirit that Wilco catches on their best days. “Burning” channels late 80’s Boss, with a barn-burning vocal delivery from Granduciel and a synthesized rock ‘n’ roll heart that would make Springsteen proud.
In contrast to their name, the War on Drugs have always drummed up fairly cheery and good-natured psych rock, but on a few songs here, Granduciel lets his anxiety and depression sink through. “Suffering” comes after the speeding “Red Eyes” and the band really dims the lights and opens up reflects on a broken relationship. “Disappearing” passes by like a shadow in the night, floating in a lake of noise and sorrow. But these downward moments just make songs like the no-looking-back optimism of “Eyes to the Wind” sound like breath of fresh air.
My main criticism of Lost in the Dream is that the album may be too cohesive in a way, with many of the songs hitting on a similar note and mood. Thus, some of these songs work really well in the package of the album, but I am not sure how well they would do out on their own, out in the wilderness of iPhone shuffle or radio play. While they do balance frenetic rockers like “Burning” and “Red Eyes” with more reflective ballads like “Suffering” and title track “Lost in the Dream”, the hazy production is so domineering here that it’s hard to always sink into these songs. But then again, the melodies and harmonies being buried deeper just may award repeated listens even more. So, I could see this being an album that climbs up my year-end list if all these songs sink their way into my subconscious like “Under the Pressure” and “Eyes to the Wind.”
Can’t Miss: “Under the Pressure”, “Eyes to the Wind”, “Red Eyes”, “Suffering”
Can’t Hit: none