Kurt Vile's old band head out on the perfect Americana road trip on their '70s-aping third album
Up until now The War On Drugs have been somewhat eclipsed by the achievements of former member Kurt Vile. Main man Adam Granduciel appeared in Vile’s band The Violators too. Evidently Philadelphia, where both acts reside, is a small town for those in possession of a well-tuned guitar and serious songwriting chops. However, with ‘Lost In The Dream’ – already one of 2014’s truly great records – Adam looks set to stand shoulder to long-lock-draped shoulder with Kurt as Philly’s most highly regarded musical sons. 2011’s ‘Slave Ambient’ may have been a cult success, but this follow-up is a fast-flowing gully to mainstream domination.
The very best kind of Americana road-trip record, ‘Lost In The Dream’ makes you want to hotwire a Mustang and drive it across the States, blazing through the badlands of Nebraska, up through California’s stunning Big Sur and down through Louisiana swampland, picking up hitchhikers and spending evenings camped out near cornfields with only a bottle of whiskey and some well-thumbed Kerouac for company. It’s a record that sensitively elevates such Americana clichés and visions of the great wide open, spinning heartland rock together with sensible psych to create a sound that’s as much a Balearic Bruce Springsteen as it is Don Henley on horseback.
Shameless in its aping of classic rock tropes – just listen to the wailing guitar solo on ‘Suffering’, the wind-in-your-hair keyboard intro to ‘Under The Pressure’ and the key-change chorus of ‘Burning’ – ‘Lost In The Dream’, like its predecessor ‘Slave Ambient’, also stomps barefaced into prog territory, with half of its 10 tracks clocking in at well over six minutes each. In the hands of a lesser artist, it could have been a total cheeseboard, a lazy lollop through some Bob Seger B-sides, but with Adam’s unpolluted, irony-free approach, his sincere love of the genres he’s aping blazes through.
Sonically, it’s an uplifting work, despite the fact that Adam has admitted that it came out of a period of extreme depression, a messy break-up and feelings of isolation. Dialling down the Dylan-esque warble that was so present on ‘Slave Ambient’ and their 2008 debut ‘Wagonwheel Blues’, on ‘An Ocean In Between The Waves’ Adam sings crisply of personal turmoil: “I can barely see you/You’re like an ocean between the waves”. Yet the song, which betrays hints of Stevie Nicks’ more spectral contributions to the Fleetwood Mac canon, is a belting piece of turbocharged classic rock. This isn’t music for commiseration, but for celebration.
The slow sizzle of ‘In Reverse’ also seems to offer well-snuggled melancholy rather than a gut-punching despair, as lapping waves and plaintive piano kick into a grandiose lament, Adam crooning the agony of those times “when we’re living in the moment/and losing our grasp”. Though one of the album’s more concise songs, the ramped-up synths and plush orchestration of ‘Red Eyes’ make it no less epic.
It’s no surprise that The War On Drugs’ indie distributor, Secretly Canadian, is part of the same label group as Jagjaguwar, home to Bon Iver. Like Justin Vernon before him, with ‘Lost In The Dream’ Adam Granduciel seems to be heading for things far bigger than anyone could ever have expected. This is one War On Drugs that might just succeed.