As appeared in the NDSU Spectrum
Review by Andrew Hilde
Lost in the Dream, the third studio album from Philadelphia rock quartet The War on Drugs, isn’t shy about coming in and making itself comfortable. The shimmering opener “Under the Pressure” develops and changes character over the course of its nearly 9 minute runtime. The rest of the album roughly follows this blueprint, never content to inhabit the same place for too long. Nonetheless, it is a remarkably consistent document from a band whose nearly decade long career has been marked by change and upheaval. This is likely due to the enduring presence of frontman Adam Granduciel, who has spearheaded the group through the departure of five former members over the years. Undoubtedly the most famous of these is guitarist Kurt Vile, who left the band shortly after the release of their debut full-length Wagonwheel Blues in 2008.
Though the membership of The War on Drugs has shifted over the years, they have not lost their wide-eyed view of the American landscape. For all the sonic territory they explore on Lost in the Dream, their tone and ethos remain consistent. Lead single “Red Eyes” grabs the listener’s attention most readily with its immediate hook, while other tracks reveal their rewards across repeated listens. “Disappearing,” with its synthesized bass and echo-chamber percussion ripples majestically, waxing and waning slowly as it develops. Though many tracks fall in excess of the 6 and 7 minute marks, the band does not waste space, their arrangements feeling vacuum packed even as they stretch across the record.
B-side highlight “Eyes to the Wind” finds Granduciel’s vocals floating over a blustering soundscape before diving into the depths of instrumental “The Haunting Idle.” Much of Lost in the Dream’s second half follows suit, painting a more introspective, emotional picture compared to side A.
All in all, War on Drugs latest effort not only lengthens their list of releases, but expands the canon of their sound. Lost in the Dream effortlessly combines its many disparate influences into music that is uniquely their own. The band brings together wide-open Springsteen sensibility, wistful, Dylanesque lyricism, and Big Star-twinged songwriting acumen in a way that few other contemporary groups can. We can only hope that Granduciel and co. continue to explore new sonic horizons.