Ex-member but regular contributor Kurt Vile has become a breakout star in recent times by making superb album after superb album, culminating in 2013’s finest stoner-pop effort Wakin On A Pretty Daze. The insular, sofa-bound sound of Vile’s records impresses many – from his likeminded peers to his hairy followers. In many ways, Vile has become a modern classic all by himself.
The War On Drugs have taken longer to reach that status – Lost In The Dream took two years to make, and has taken three to release. Slave Ambient was many folks’ album of the year – its potent strain of Bob Dylan-by-way-of-J Mascis stoner-rock impressed as many potheads as regular joes. In many ways, it was a perfect record, and a complete surprise to those that expected nothing.
If Slave Ambient was your album of the year in 2011, Lost In The Dream might be your album of the decade. There’s a chance you’ve cultivated a ditch in your couch, a length to your hair and a glaze to your eyes by the time you’re reading this – and Granduciel provides you with the perfect tunes to deepen that divot, grow those locks and blaze your pipe some more, but this time, he’s aiming for your heart.
His voice is curiously similar to Dylan’s, but it doesn’t sound affected – nothing about The War On Drugs seems affected. Their organic, rustic beauty is often embellished by instruments or rhythms one wouldn’t ordinarily expect from bands of this ilk.
Opener Under the Pressure, for example, includes crude analogue synths and grandiose string accoutrements, underpinned by a heavy thud-along drum beat. It sounds like Dylan singing over a crusty Talking Heads number – totally alien to those expecting free-wheeling (pardon the pun) Crazy Horse riffage. It’s a prime example of the beauty Granduciel conjures with every release, and the totally unexpected composite elements he infuses his pot-pourri sound with.
Red Eyes (released as the single) has a delicately insistent, night-drive rhythm, acoustic guitar strums and sparse synth washes evoke Tom Petty’s much-maligned Southern Accents record, or Bruce Springsteen’s much-adored ’80s work. The glittery melody and nostalgic atmosphere are tear-inducing, completely beautiful in their simplicity. It’s followed by Suffering, which takes a detour through piano-driven ‘love’ music, with Granduciel’s yearning voice and piercing guitar line cutting through the rose-petals-on-an-unmade-bed fug.
An Ocean In Between The Waves has a pulsing rhythm and downcast Nebraska-esque vocal approach. By this point on the record, it becomes clear that the noise-rock flavours apparent on Slave Ambient and in particular Wagonwheel Blues have completely disappeared, their place taken by classic ’80s drive-time radio hooks and polish. The lyrics on this particular number are magnificent: “Just wanna lay in the moonlight/and see the light shining/and see you in the outline.” Remember your first love? And that gut-punch nostalgia that can sometimes knock you out for a few minutes whenever ‘your song’ comes on? This track has that appeal (and a stunning guitar solo to boot).
Disappearing and Eyes To The Wind both evoke records you haven’t heard in a while – records like Oh Mercy and Human Touch. Lyrically superb, musically meticulous and relentlessly emotional, they nix any idea of ‘the mid-album lull’.
Ghostly instrumental The Haunting Idle and Running Down A Dream-esque rocker Burning set up the closing one-two of the title track and closer In Reverse. The former is the most explicit Dylan homage, resplendent as it is with harmonica and strummed acoustic chords. The latter is probably the album highlight: bright, gleaming chords splash around Granduciel’s superb lyrics and subtle vocal melody.
If you don’t already know, it’s hard for anybody to tell you why The River, Street-Legal and Full Moon Fever are essential listening. To modern ears, they sound cheap: full of crass hooks and relentless ‘pop’ styling. But to the initiated, those records hold impossible sentimental weight – which is brought, stunningly, to the fore on Lost In The Dream. To those of you out there who crave immediate, wistful pop music that will make you smile about the future and make you cry about the past, you won’t find a better album this decade. It’s a tender, inviting, consoling, comforting record that you’ll play again and again (stoned or not). In short, Lost In The Dream is perfect in every way.