Think Outside the Boom Box: The War on Drugs returns
Music columnist Patrick McKenna on the Philadelphia rockers’ latest album
The War on Drugs is a group of principle. That is, the principle of keeping rock ’n’ roll beautiful.
Formed in 2005, out of the heart of fast-paced Philadelphia, the group mixed shoegazing-era guitar methods known best for turning Sonic Youth into one of the most iconic alternative bands of the ’90s with the sound of classic, earnest heartland rock that pushed Bruce Springsteen towards stardom in the ’80s.
Since releasing its debut LP, Wagonwheel Blues, the band lost its brilliantly versatile co-founding member, Kurt Vile, but somehow found its voice. As Vile went on to make a name for himself in the indie-rock world, The War on Drugs slowly but surely proved itself to be a group built on empowering lyrical matter and sound that was both beauty and grit — just the way rock works best.
Extensive touring and stylistic experimentation has landed the group, and specifically the creative mastermind and lead guitarist and vocalist Adam Granduciel, at the top of the indie-rock world. The group’s modernized take on the sounds Springsteen and Bob Dylan mastered years ago, seeps into its own world of heavily-layered rock rumble.
After nearly three years away from the music scene, the band has finally returned with its third album, Lost in a Dream. The gravelly yet sweet voice of Granduciel mixes wonderfully with the churning, fluctuating guitar work, as song after song takes listeners on a journey along the road of American spirit and wonderment.
Lost in a Dream has a musical theme that speaks for itself. From the breezy and soothing opening of the album through the last 40 seconds, the album is made up of a sound that would make the perfect score to anyone’s dreamscape. The songs have a consistent building element, as if a flood of ravaging guitar power were just about to burst through the walls of a listener’s eardrum. This construction of melodic ferociousness hits best on “Red Eyes,” the lead single and undisputable top track off the album.
There are sorrowful ballads (“Suffering”) that settle right into upbeat frenzies (“An Ocean In Between Waves”). The driving force of Lost in a Dream continues right into the last second of the album, with “In Reverse” doing a phenomenal job at ending a great album on an equally great note.
The experimental bases for the each track include instrumental booms synths and distortion, shifting listener’s attention from drawn-out jamming to the actual song in a matter of seconds.
Lost in a Dream is as emotional as it is melodic. The band’s shifts in tempo and buildups (mostly in place of standard choruses) make it distinct from the group’s earlier records, and I believe that’s what makes it better. The War on Drugs is a group clearly not done proving itself as a creative force to be reckoned with.