The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream

Dan Hyman

By Dan Hyman

on 03.18.14 in Reviews

While Kurt Vile’s monumental Wakin on a Pretty Daze was blowing up, carrying Vile to festival-performer status, the Philly rocker’s former band the War on Drugs — and, more specifically, its mastermind, Adam Granduciel — has been back home, fastidiously slaving away in the studio, piecing together his own masterwork. The result is the stunning Lost in the Dream, the War on Drugs’ third effort and undoubtedly their defining moment. The album is an expansive, all-consuming experience, stuffed with massive late-’80s Springsteen hooks, tender, precise Mark Knopfler-worthy guitar work, Granduciel’s honeyed warble and an emotional heft that, while more elusive than Vile’s, lingers far longer.

Undoubtedly the band’s defining moment

Dream is a collective effort, boasting the contributions of more than 11 musicians, but make no mistake: The intricately assembled album — built from more than a hundred overdubs and “probably 70 tracks,” as Granduciel told Wondering Sound — is Granduciel’s baby. The sound is decidedly more muscular and forward than 2011′s Slave Ambient, at once sprightly in its boisterous rock moments (the Arcade Fire-like anthem “Burning” and brawny first single “Red Eyes”) and mournful in its Cure-like solemnity (“Under the Pressure,” its instrumental fade-away recalling a drawn-out Skype farewell). Granduciel posits himself as a world-weary soul, purposeful but uneasy: “Will you be here/ Suffering/ Will you be here/ What a role to be in,” he sings on “Suffering.”

“No one sees me when I’m out here,” Granduciel says on “Red Eyes.” The War on Drugs haven’t exactly been hiding, but never before have they seemed this visible. Granduciel may have felt feel as if he’s on some sort of island, stolen away. But that’s about to change: Dreams is his vessel, ready to bring him to shore.