Singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel reportedly recorded much of the War on Drugs’ Lost in the Dream on his own, bringing in bandmates David Hartley, Robbie Bennett, and Patrick Berkery to record their parts individually. This disconnected recording process is somewhat surprising given how fluid and interwoven the album feels, with instrumental parts that fade into each other with eerie synchronization. It’s only fitting, however, that Lost in the Dream is in large part the vision of one person.
The album sounds too elusive and particular to be the result of full-on collaboration, the songs drifting with a bittersweet languor, as if this were the last time the band was ever going to play them. Half of the tracks clock in at over six minutes, and all the spacious synth interludes, long guitar figures, and huge swaths of audio feedback are as, if not more, important, than the vocals and melodies themselves. The songs’ wandering spaciousness is a tread-marked palimpsest of reflections, repetitions of thought, and looping uncertainty.
Song structures are often obscured or otherwise completely swallowed up in Lost in the Dream’s dense, wreathing haze of reverb, feedback, and instrumentals streaking off into the distance. In the album’s most successful moments, it sounds as if these disparate sounds have a mind of their own, achieving perfect coalescence. “Under Pressure,” the sprawling, kaleidoscopic nine-minute opener, begins a lot like ’80s-era Springsteen, all electric guitar riffs and run-ragged energy, but it ends with nearly three minutes of undulating feedback and loose bits of tape hiss and string plucks.
It’s a defining moment, serving as a portal into what Granduciel is really after: not just reaching back to the ’80s rock of Don Henley, Dire Straits, and the Boss, but capturing the melancholic filter through which that past is often viewed. It’s not simply that the album is nostalgic; the lingering textures and desolate, open-ended sections, reminiscent of experimental sound artists like Tim Hecker, are sonic representations of the phenomenon of nostalgia itself. Granduciel is clearly still drawn to his rock roots, but as the gap between him and those influences widens, it become suffused with anxiety and dread, the sort of existential ambivalence that Lost in the Dream masterfully conveys with its vast distorted spaces.