How can The War On Drugs Lost In The Dream have come out 5 years ago? how is that ever possible? surely it was 2 years ago at most?
A much feted release, Lost In The Dream, is primarily famous in true hipster circles for being the bearer of the unique accolade of being ‘the best LP I forgot to include in the 1537 Top 11 LP’s of 2014‘. Yup, I liked it so much I sort of totally forgot it existed*, despite it being a Top 3 album for me that year.
When I first played Lost In the Dream I was a bit nonplussed, I recognised the sound, I liked the sound, I could tell it was good – excellent in part, but I struggled to form a full opinion on it. I still find it something of an elusive album, even with my huge brain I find it difficult to nail down a definitive opinion on it. That might just be its little bit of genius.
There is something indistinct about Lost In The Dream, the hazed front cover sums it up beautifully, there is a misty shape-shifting quality to these tracks – the lengthy coda to ‘Under The Pressure’ and the glimpsed-at-dawn quality of the instrumental ‘The Haunting Idle’, for example. The songs reveal themselves to you out of the mist and then slink away, often showing different facets of themselves. I have been listening to Lost In The Dream since the week it came out and it never seems to sound quite the same to me.
Doubtless you all know the standard War On Drugs critical tookit clichés by now – reflective indie shoegazey motorik n’ roll filtered, through an audaciously mainstream 80’s sound – think Knopler, Dylan, Springsteen, Hornsby, Petty. In other words, by the pricking of my thumbs, something potentially synthesized featuring gated drums, this way comes. Yup. The real trouble is with clichés, they work**.
Main WoD dude Adam Granduciel wrote the bulk of the album solo in a funk of anxiety and depression and it shows, lyrically we are cruising towards downtown Plenty Sad Bastard, NC and the wistfulness in Granduciel’s voice and unhurried arrangements can be breath-taking at times. This is especially true in the Americana tinged title track and the trudging-along-the-shoreline ‘In Reverse’, when the melancholy gets amped up to majestic levels creating an overweening sadness that feels very much like beauty; the kind of care-worn terrain where hard-won truths are won^.
But then all this is leavened by the major key triumphs of ‘An Ocean Between The Waves’ and ‘Burning’. I rate ‘An Ocean …’ as not only the best track here, but one of the best tracks I can think of period. The propulsive beat, seemingly borrowed from WoD’s previous LP Slave Ambient, just whips us towards all sorts of heaven. Graduciel’s voice, subtle tool as it is, weaves a spell between layers of stunningly simple, stunningly obvious guitar; it’s music that is painterly in effect and construction. A slight chord change, a whoop, a line that’s sung harder than the last … small things, take on a much larger context within the whole and just flip the world right over. It touches on perfection.
(this version ditches some subtlety and gains a shitload more beer commercial guitar heroics)
Similarly, ‘Burning’ which sounds a little like ‘Dancing In The Dark’ crossed with ‘Young Turks’*^, a sneaky pinch of New Order and something from the 80’s done by Dylan that wasn’t total cack, is another great moment for me. The sound of the track is so positive, the melodic lines so obvious, it just slays me.
There are still a few moments on Lost In The Dream that don’t carry me, ‘Suffering’ and ‘Disappearing’ to name two, where the music and the intent just miss a gear change. Maybe I need more whooping; I’m shallow like that.
It may have been written as a solo LP but Lost In The Dream certainly isn’t performed as one, although given the list of instruments Mr Granduciel plays you may be forgiven that. The rhythm section of Charlie Hall and Dave Hartley (drums, bass respectively) are supple and subtle players and the low-key keys of Robbie Bennett burnish it all. If you listen deep there is some brass hidden away in there to great effect too, but like the whole of the LP you have to come to it, not vice versa.
So when I can wrap my arms around the smoke that forms Lost In The Dream I do really rate it. You have to concentrate on it though, it is always seeking to drift away into the background but it certainly repays any effort spent on it as you slip away into the melancholy dark with it. Until ‘Cherry Pie’ anyway!
PS: Cheers J and Jprobichaud for making me thing of The War On Drugs again in your comments on my last slice of nonsense.
*see family and pets, it isn’t just you.
**as the cliché has it.
^an affect which gets blown to smithereens every time I listen to it on iTunes as LP closer ‘In Reverse’ is immediately followed by Warrant ‘Cherry Pie’ which lightens the mood somewhat. This is possibly the ending Lost In The Dream needed?^^
^^due to the magic of the MF-ing alphabet Warren G ‘Regulate’ comes up next and I find myself chair dancing rather than pondering the imponderables. It all kinda spoils the affect; vinyl is best, folks.
*^a tune I only discovered in writing about this LP because others used it for a reference point – what a banger!