The War on Drugs‘ latest album, led by orchestrator Adam Granduciel, is certainly not music to sit in traffic to. This is a flowing journey of an album. ETA? We’ll get there when we get there. If you could call their concrete post-rock foundations a slow-rolling locomotive, the swooping guitar lines are the bumper stickers, spray paint and bobble heads that decorate it.
Comparisons have littered the acclaim of ‘Lost in the Dream’ – at times Teenage Fanclub, or Tom Petty, but always with that staggered Dylan-esque drawl. While at times it pounds like Running Down a Dream, the album title is evidence enough of Granduciel’s motives here; he’s not as eager to run the dream down as escape into it. Burning has an underlying synth flurry that can’t help but summon up thoughts of Bruce Springsteen, but – somehow – it feels as if that mightn’t be such a bad thing.
This is, by and large, a collection of driving songs. That said, this is no thud-heavy drive. There’s no pedal to the metal. Rather than a rhythmic stomping boot, this is the playful jump of a toddler in a padded onesy. And it’s all the cuddlier because of it – it’s remarkable how The War on Drugs manages to retain this warmth throughout the record. Especially effective is the relentless motorik beat of An Ocean in Between The Waves – a potential allusion to ‘Neu!’ – and when it ends abruptly, after seven minutes, it snags the way I Want You (She’s So Heavy) first did.
Without deeper penetration, it’s near impossible to be swayed from the synth-guitar ambience into Granduciel’s emotional pit; but it is there. Said to be inspired by his depression caused by his return to civilian life following ‘Slave Ambient’s success and extensive touring, it’s only the lyrical content that seems to be overly affected by it. Even with titles like Suffering and Disappearing, the most downtrodden we hear the song-writer is in the final song, In Reverse. It ends, “I’ll be here or I’ll fade away/Never cared about moving, never cared about now.”
‘Lost in the Dream’ has more highs and lows than their 2011 offering, and less middling, but it’s of the same ilk. At rest-stops along the way, they dabble in more abstract soundscapes that wouldn’t be far removed from a slow motion shot from a HBO drama, but the majority is a pulsating giddy-up that puts a fire in front of cold hands as much as under your seat. Just try restraining yourself from whooping along when Red Eyes bursts into life.
The tracks are long, averaging six minutes, but the sultry wisps of synthesiser really feel like you are, as intended, lost in a dream. Go get this album, a Cadillac, a blazer, and maybe some bubbles. Let’s make this trip a good one.