The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream

One afternoon last week, your Stereogum staff put in serious work on an email thread, attempting to figure out which ’80s corporate-rock entity, exactly, the War On Drugs sound most like on their new album Lost In The Dream. Among the staff, various theories include Don Henley, Sting, Dire Straits, Born In The U.S.A.-era Springsteen, ’80s-edition Bob Dylan, Richard Marx. Scott Lapatine’s final word: “It sounds like if Knopfler had played on Full Moon Fever instead of Mike Campbell.” If you’ve read Ryan Leas’s great long feature on the band, you may remember the moment when frontman Adam Granduciel, assembling a song in the studio, mentions that “the snare sounds a little too Wilburys” — as in, the question of how much Wilburys there should be in the War On Drugs’ sound is an open one. All of which is to say that Lost In The Dream is an album full of echoes, and most of those echoes are of a fascinating and awkward moment in rock history, a time when the artists in the middle of the rock stardom road got caught between the sweaty roadhouse gristle of the past and the synthetic sheen of the future. Plenty of classic-rock greats lost their way forever during that moment, but others found a way to turn the moment into magic, at least for the length of a song: “The Boys Of Summer,” “I’m On Fire, “Most Of The Time,” “Free Fallin’.” And it’s a weird, fascinating thing that one of the most breathlessly anticipated, critically loved indie rock albums of 2014 is, in so many ways, a throwback to Reagan-era adult-contemporary radio. But if you’re having trouble with this latest development, think of it this way: Lost In The Dream uses that moment as the catalyst for some serious inward traveling, for diffuse and fractured meditations. Think of how the Spacemen 3 used the building blocks of, say, Hawkwind and Suicide to make world-swallowing amniotic epics that ultimately became their own gorgeous psycedelic monuments to self. Same deal here, except the War On Drugs use The End Of Innocence instead of Kick Out The Jams.

There are other funny things about Lost In The Dream. For instance, there’s a reason why Granduciel is the only member of the band to pose on the cover: He recorded much of the album himself, only bringing in his bandmates on an individual basis to record their own minute parts. In that Ryan Leas piece, Granduciel spells it out in the plainest possible terms: “This wasn’t a band record. This was a solo record. I knew that.” And yet the album captures that delicate wandering power of people playing music in a room together, each instrument giving its own very particular take on the song’s melody, all of it coming together into one gloopy whole. This isn’t like a Smashing Pumpkins record, where the entire thing is obviously Billy Corgan’s attempt to brightly and clearly replicate the sound he already had in his head. It’s an album that wanders and spins and slowly unfurls, the songs never snapping into hard focus. And if Granduciel put all the pieces of these songs together like a jigsaw puzzle, than he must’ve used a metaphorical blowtorch to melt those jigsaw pieces into one blurry, elusive piece. I honestly can’t imagine any of the instrumental elements of this album being played in isolation.

Another funny thing: Granduciel wrote Lost In The Dream while he was going through a period of intense personal anxiety, making drastic changes in his life and coping with the transition to full-blown near-middle-age adulthood, the time when the question of whether this is really what you want to do with your life becomes urgent and concrete and terrifying. And yet it’s been a long time since I’ve heard an album this blissfully chill, this at peace with itself. Actually, now that I think about it, the last album I heard that captured that same majestic languid torpor was probably Wakin On A Pretty Daze, the solo masterpiece from the former War On Drugs member Kurt Vile. Vile released that album deep into spring 2013, and I remember driving around to that album and letting it hypnotize me — cars behind me honking their horn because I wouldn’t get going when the light turned green, too busy being amazed at the way sunlight slanted through branches of new leaves. Lost In The Dream is a very different album from Wakin On A Pretty Daze — less fractured and personal, more drawn to classic-rock forms, more existentially bummed. And yet it’s still the same sort of springtime record. Right now, spring is in sudden first blush in central Virginia, the sun turning what’s left of last week’s random-ass snowstorm into half-remembered muddy glop, and I couldn’t imagine a better soundtrack for the moment. For an album so inspired by anxiety and transition, it sure gives of a sense of deep, lulling contentment.

Lost In The Dream has another thing in common with Wakin On A Pretty Daze: It’s fucking great. Or, more specifically, it’s an example of an artist whose voice was already strong and well-defined, but who really found a way to hit his stride, to expand on everything that was already good about his music and make a whole universe out of it. This is still very recognizable as the same band who made Slave Ambient three years ago, but they’ve deepened their sound and expanded their reach. They’ve become the greatest version of themselves. The rhythm section on Lost In The Dream maintains a basic, steady pulse even when the songs are in full drift mode, and that’s what allows everything else to float off into the stratosphere. The guitars are spiraling curlicues, the pianos are ponds of light, and even the brief hints of horn disrupt nothing. On the records that Lost In The Dream echoes, the synths once worked as awkward interlopers, instantly dating the songs and screaming quiet stories about producer desperation. Here’s, the synths are a reassuring background drone, blurring the sound of the songs like vaseline on a camera lens. 30 years after those records came out, Granduciel and his collaborators have found a way to use that sound to target the dark, uncanny corners of your mind, to tickle the memories that you didn’t realize were still there. It’s the sort of stunning, beautiful music that disappears like smoke.

Lost In The Dream is out 3/18 on Secretly Canadian. Stream it below.

(via The Guardian)

Comments (69)
  1. Yeah…this album is great

  2. I saw War on Drugs open for Destroyer when he was touring on Kaputt; I checked out their stuff but nothing off of “Slave Ambient” really stuck with me other than “Baby Missiles.”

    I really think the band has come into their own here. After a couple of listens there isn’t any one song that jumps out as me as a highlight, but that may in itself speak to how consistent the record is.

    As far as all the Springsteen comparisons go, I think the influence is a bit overstated. But I plan to do a scientific test by giving this record to my dad. He is a dad and he likes rock, but he does not like “dad rock” (ie, Hold Steady, Drive-By Truckers) just actual dad rock. In fact the only artists I can say for certain he likes are Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Jimmy Buffet. We’ll see how that goes!

    • I hope they have come into their own, because I really wanted to like them last time out but felt like they sounded like Springsteen on xanax.

      But I also didn’t like Smoke Ring for My Halo beyond two or three songs, and Waking on a Pretty Daze was my favorite album of last year, so I guess there’s hope.

    • Interesting that you mention the tour with Destroyer. I hadn’t thought about it before but this record kind of reminds me of Kaputt. The bits of saxophone, 80′s sounding snare drums, both albums are kind of retro in the same way.

  3. Getting serious Knopfler vibes. This might be just me, or the fact that I haven’t lived with this one yet, but I kind of like Slave Ambient better. Still, this is a very good album and I suspect it’ll be a grower.

  4. Incredible album. “Eyes to the Wind” makes me think of Bob Dylan every time. Really loving the classic rock feel, but it’s still totally the work of Adam Granduciel. Will definitely be playing this all year long.

    And great write-up. You really captured my thought processes while digesting this album.

    • “Eyes to the Wind” is *amazing*. I hear Dylan too, but I also hear Petty, Knopfler, and even Neil Young. Glad that artists like War on Drugs and Kurt Vile are reviving classic rock for us younger people who didn’t get to experience it the first time around!

  5. I’ve had this for a few weeks and while I enjoyed Red Eyes, I just haven’t been able to get into this like some have. To be fair though, I’ve never particularly enjoyed their work. If I hadn’t heard Kurt Vile’s excellent album from last year, this may have struck more of a chord with me.

  6. Every year, there are three things that allow me the joy of realizing the lifeless gray of winter is over. One is when I notice my local DQ has reopened for the season. Two, is when The Masters comes around on TV. And, three is when the first true (and usually most memorable of the year) Spring release, the one that allows me to roll down my car window and sing along to its words as loud as I can while the sun beats through my windshield, and infinitely play on repeat. This album is unmistakably it.
    Spring has arrived my friends…

    • Yeah, it’s sunny and in the 60s after the two months of the shittiest weather imaginable… think this album leaked at the exact right time

    • Not sure where you live because where I live is supposed to get 6 inches of snow on Wednesday. The album is fucking terrific though.

    • Much agreed. It’s funny, I spent all last week listening to this album while I commuted into work, and I was having a hard time connecting to it. Sure, the music was good, but I found myself struggling to dig deeper. On Saturday, it happened to be a sunny, Spring-like day, so I got in my car and drove around with the windows down and put this album on. Suddenly, I heard it in a different light. Maybe I was in a good mood because of the weather, maybe it was hearing “Burning” on my car stereo… I don’t know, but whatever it was, it put a big stupid smile on my face.

  7. To me, Lost In The Dream sounds like an album-long remix of “Walk of Life” by Dire Straits. This is a good thing.

    • My copy of the Slave Ambient tape was delivered during a warm weather season, and it got all warped by the heat in the mail. It’s an interesting listen none the less…

  8. To anybody concerned that “Lost In The Dream” won’t get Album of the Week because it was Prematurely Evaluated, fear not! Our old friend Yeezus got the same treatment last year and we all know how that ended.

    Also, I don’t recommend typing “Yeezus” into Stereogum’s search feature. Pretty sure it nets the same results as “(null)”

    • phew! I was worried there for a second!

      This album is blissful to me. Definitely my favorite album of the year so far, with no question.

      Though the albums are very, very, very different stylistically, I feel about this the same way I felt about Anxiety by Autre Ne Veut, which mostly means I can’t stop listening to it.

    • I’ve seen the authorship of the Album of the Week being handed off to a different writer as well, though, and I can very well, on the heels of them playing Stereogum’s SXSW party, see Perfect Pussy being given the honors as well. Tom has shown favoritism toward La Dispute as well.

      Let’s not count those chickens before they hatch and be content that Lost In the Dream has already gotten two long-form features here on Stereogum.

    • Ehhhh….I don’t think so. I can see Perfect Pussy dominating next week. 8.8-9.1 on P4K and album of the week here. And if not them, Kevin Drew’s Darlings is a viable contender and rightfully so.

  9. a comforting listen for sure.

  10. This album is getting me through many a crowded bus rides.

  11. I can’t help but hear a less hooky version of “Young Turks” in “Burning”. Seriously great album though.

  12. This album is the sound of memories, wind, roads, childhood and adulthood. I love it so damn much, I can’t stop listening to it.

  13. My premature evaluation after six listens exactly is: I had never listened to another album by this band, and that needs to change. So far it’s gorgeous and sad and I am enjoying the hell out of it.

  14. This is literally the first album in at least 10 years that I’ve preordered after only hearing once (I think the only other albums I’ve preordered since college was MBV last year), but before I was even halfway through with this, I was slapping down the credit card for the purple vinyl. I’m really surprised it’s doing so much for me because, while I really liked Slave Ambient, I actually thought Wagonwheel Blues had better songs on it.

    I need to revisit Waking on a Pretty Daze. For me, Childish Prodigy is one of my all time top album, the first couple I always really liked, Smoke Ring for My Halo took me a while to get but I eventually fell in love with it, Wakin’ just left me a little cold though.

  15. I’ve only listened twice now, but I already feel like this is my favorite album of the year so far. Loving it. I was going to say it sounded like a much better Destroyer before I even saw that War of Drugs opened for him/them recently.

    I will probably pick up that purple vinyl as well. Good call, guiriguiri.

  16. This album is a warm cup of tea that will happily sit next to me at my desk for a very long time, and “In Reverse” is just the sugar at the bottom of the glass.

  17. fine i will be the only one to say that i am surprised at the overwhelmingly positive press this record has received. i get that people have different tastes, but try as i might, i cannot see how anyone can listen to this record more than a handful of times. it’s repetitive but not hypnotic, it’s got a classic rock vibe but it’s not classic nor rock, and they lyrics don’t seem to be very deep. sorry sorry sorry. i will listen to it again, but that’s my gut reaction.

    • I’ll upvote you for expressing a very unpopular (and objectively wrong) opinion because I’ve been in your shoes many times — completely perplexed by everyone’s gushing about an album…like with the last Destroyer album.

    • Gut reactions are honest. The cool thing is sometimes great things grown on you. This album has the great ingredients for a strong grower. It’s slow and hypnotic, but palpable. I only heard it once on a laptop, but I’m interested in another listen and I think I’ll even enjoy it more the next time around.

    • I think the lyrics are very personal and may not resonate with everyone. For me the line “I’m just a bit run down here at the moment” is easy to relate to. Couple that with the way that he emotes that line. I’m sold.

  18. I really liked this. This was my first exposure to The War on Drugs. I could hear whispers of Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits and Bob Dylan. I thought it was fantastic. Whoever said this was driving music on here was absolutely accurate. After only listen, I’m really impressed. It sounds like a great lost album from the 80′s. Thanks Stereogum for profiling it and the band too. I’ve heard of this band but never really gave them a thorough call to attention until this album. A fine album it is too.

  19. Listening ti this album got “Touch of Grey” by the Grateful Dead stuck in my head.

  20. Of all Vile/Granduciel related albums, Wagonwheel Blues still is my favourite. But this Lost In The Dream is really good.

    What I find a bit strange is what has happened to the sound(s) of Kurt Vile and War On Drugs since Vile left the band. You would think that Vile wanted to pursue a solo career to in some way distance himself from the War On Drugs sound. Instead, Smoke Ring For My Halo and Slave Ambient sounded a lot more similar than Slave Ambient and Wagonwheel Blues did. And in the same way, Lost In The Dream sounds more similar to Walking On A Pretty Daze than to any previous Granduciel release.

    I like all the aforementoined albums, but I still would like to hear a raffined and developed version of the War On Drugs I head on Wagonwheel Blues. That would kill. I guess I have to be patient about that one. In the meantime, I enjoy Lost In The Dream, and look forward to seeing them perform this material live with great anticipation.

  21. This album is like meeting an old friend that you haven’t seen in a long time, and almost immediately you click back into your old groove and it’s like you’d never been apart.

  22. Shades of Dylan, Don Henley, Dire Straights and Kurt Vile. Sounds fuckin great to me.

  23. What I’m gathering from everyone here is that this album essentially needs to be absorbed via my daily commute. I burned it off this morning, and will listen on my drive home – this morning I just couldn’t take Cloud Nothings out of my CD player, it’s been in there for over a week.

  24. On the fence with this one. I think this is a very well crafted album, but I never thought that the sound of Don Henley, Sting, Dire Straits,80s-Dylan and Richard Marx would become fashionable. I’m a HUGE Kurt Vile fan- and I get that he’s coming from similar influences, but his take on it is a little hipper.
    I think the War on Drugs sound is veering little too close to the “cheesy” AOR 80s sound that i cant seem to shake.

    Anyone else feel the same way?

    • It definitely tiptoes the line, especially during the first few listens. But as much of a cliché as it might sound, the more I spend time with the album, the better it gets. Each time it plays more like a WoD album and not as “close to the ‘cheesy’ AOR 80s sound.” Hopefully with time you’ll enjoy it more. And if not, well, there’s gonna be plenty of other releases this year to make up for it!

    • I more or less agree. While I can appreciate that it’s a well-done album and stays consistent throughout, I don’t like it aesthetically speaking (much of that having to do with the drumming, synths and just the recording in general). I did love the last 2 KV albums though for the record.

    • totally agree. it made me wonder how old the stereogum crowd is, really. also, this hypothetical conversation occurred to me while listening to this album on my commute:

      drummer: hey man, i was wondering if, like, maybe i could experiment with, you know, maybe like, ummm, a different beat?

      main guy: like what did you have in mind?

      drummer: well, erm, something like, kick snare kick snare kick snare kick snare kick snare kick snare kick kick snare…

      main guy: /mind explodes/

      /drummer’s curse is over and spirit is finally freed/

    • I had a first listen on a long drive this morning and…not sure yet. The Dire Straits comparison is impossible to avoid and it also reminds me of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tango In The Night” (with Built To Spill’s dueling guitars added in perhaps). I can hear why people have fallen in love with this, but I’m not a fan of the drumming at all, probably because I grew up disliking that whole corporate boomer sound. I think you can have relatively simple drumming which anchors a song that’s otherwise heading of into space, without it being so metronomic (I’m thinking of Crazyhorse’s “Down By The River”, where Ralph Molina was supposedly trying to do a James Brown beat).

  25. Tom – do you live in Richmond?? Just caught your reference to central Virginia and last week’s random-ass snowstorm.

  26. Just want to echo just how good I think this album is. I had never listened to War on Drugs before, did not know what to expect at all, but was immediately floored. I keep comparing it to Atlas, which I think is boring and repetitive. This is just so layered and climactic and blissful feeling in places.

    Make sure you listen in good headphones, or on a good speaker system, I’ll say. This album sounds totally different out of my Macbook speakers vs. out of my on ear headphones.

    My AOTY so far.

  27. i don’t think i have anything to add that hasn’t been said already, but yeah, i haven’t been this absolutely bowled over on first listen by any record in forever.

    • Agreed, C. I was convinced that this is the album of the year after getting two minutes into An Ocean In Between The Tides. Such wonderful, understandable depth.

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  29. Eyes to the Wind has a little Runnin’ Against the Wind in it too. Wonderful all over.

  30. From top to bottom, this album gets as close to perfection as I’ve heard in years. I’m elated by how new and transformed “Red Eyes” sounds now that it’s not stand-alone. As an ingredient to the whole, it almost seems stronger.

  31. It’s not Coldplay, but it must suffice.

  32. It makes me think of A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Anyone?

  33. a truly excellent album

  34. “Here’s [sic], the synths are a reassuring background drone, blurring the sound of the songs like vaseline on a camera lens.”

    Spot fucking on. Great album

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