Fire Note Says: Lost In The Dream is an instant classic.
Album Review: Hailing from Philadelphia, The War on Drugs is the musical brainchild of Adam Granduciel, but also includes Dave Hartley and Robbie Bennett. The band had previously existed somewhat in the shadow of Kurt Vile (former band member and collaborator), but all of that changed in 2011 with the release of Slave Ambient. That album found its way on to many year-end lists, and the comedown from the tour to support it provides much of the backdrop to Lost In The Dream. How do you come back home after being away for so long? How do you fit back in to your old life when things have changed so much in your present life, and how can you maintain old relationships through it all? These are the questions at the core of Lost In The Dream, there are no easy answers here, but there is a lot of searching for the right answer, going in wrong directions, only to turn around and find your way back out again. This is pretty intense stuff to be sure, but it’s this sort of added weight that takes the album to another level.
Musically the band has cut down on the droney instrumental space rock folk jams, and instead has figured out how to incorporate those pieces into the songs, rather than making those jams into songs on their own. That’s not to say that this is a short album full of short songs, in fact the opposite is true, the ten songs on the album clock in at just about an hour. The album takes the space folk feel of their earlier work and adds a touch of 80’s vibe to it. The keyboards/synths particularly call to mind the great Roy Bittan/Danny Federici duo on Springsteen’s 80’s albums, but the guitars are more psychedelic and folky, while the drums are often outright krautrock. It’s an inspired mix of influences to be sure, at once familiar, but the listener is never quite able to pinpoint exactly what it is. Heck I even hear some “Young Turks” era Rod Stewart in there. But don’t worry, this is no watered down record designed to be gobbled up by the masses, no this is dark hurtful stuff, similar to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. Painful stuff, that sounds gorgeous, music to listen to during dark nights of the soul.
“Under the Pressure” starts off with a sea of noise that pulls itself together and settles into a midtempo piano groove. Granduciel sounds like a young Bob Dylan on this one, the drums are steady, the guitars float in and out, but it’s the piano that really propels the song. At nearly nine minutes in length, the song never feel overlong, because the band knows how to pull back in spots, and then push ahead in other spots, the song never lags and has multiple dynamic shifts. “Red Eyes” drenches the vocal in effects, hiding the direct meaning of the words in spots by obscuring them, but it adds to the air of mystery surrounding them. Again the band plays with the quiet/loud dynamic to great effect here. “Suffering” shifts the album into low gear with its slower atmospheric vibe, but it’s a tremendous song, and the guitar work is impossibly great once the solo hits. “Burning” uses the keys to great effect once again, combining the Springsteen vibe with the Rod Stewart vibe I was talking about earlier. Trust me on this one, I know what I’m talking about, it’s fantastic. If there is a hit on the album, this is my pick. It’s got it all, great instrumentation, a great vocal and melody, and a cool vibe. “In Reverse” which is the album closer, is one of those jaw dropping album closers that doesn’t come around very often. As the final strains of it fade away, you will sit there in stunned silence and try and comprehend what you just heard. It’s a perfect closer to a damn near perfect album. I figured going in that this record would probably be very good, with a real chance at being great, but what I did not expect was that it would be an instant classic.
Towards the end of the year, we at The Fire Note like to get together, and go back through our reviews and see if we still stand behind our original scores or if we think they should have been higher or lower than what we originally gave them. Things that seemed like grand slams at the time can end up being ground rule doubles, or things that seemed pretty good at the time can end up dominating your playlist for the whole year, and you regret not giving the higher rating. Lost In The Dream is so good that I am asking myself, in six months will I have wished I had hung the fiver on it? The answer is yes, so I did.
Key Tracks: “In Reverse”, “Burning”, “Red Eyes”
Artists With Similar Fire: Kurt Vile / Bob Dylan / Bon Iver
The War On Drugs Website
The War On Drugs Facebook
Secretly Canadian Records
– Reviewed by Kevin Poindexter