Over the next few weeks, in an unprecedented act of attempted mass cooperation normally seen during wartime or in the days following a national disaster, millions of everyday citizens will have to accept and live with the realities of self-quarantined isolation in hopes of curbing the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
To add to the uncertainty, the mass job layoffs across the live events industry continue to have major impacts on economies both local, regional, and national. Regular men, women, and children now find themselves stuck indoors for the foreseeable future. As many now look for ways to escape the bleak and uncertain present and future over these next few months, the sounds of music will be a loyal and safe sanctuary for many who now look to escape the world engulfed in a pandemic.
One album which always comes to mind when the discussion of isolation and the dread of cabin fever during the long, dark winter months comes about is The War On Drugs‘ 2014 masterpiece, Lost in the Dream. Released in the spring of 2014, just as the warmth of spring was thawing out the blues of winter, the personal period piece from singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel arrived as a wonderful soundtrack for the lonely, and did so without piling onto the darkened moods that arrive and settle in during the winter months. The listening experience of this album does not evoke anywhere near the same feelings of dread one feels when, say, playing a song like Phish‘s “Waste” on repeat just after getting dumped by a significant other. Rather, it’s one that makes the listener seriously consider, maybe even rediscover him or herself entirely during times of solitude and self-question.
The 10-track studio effort is heavily themed around the immense feelings of loneliness and home-ridden depression experienced by Granduciel himself. Each song represents a different page in the guitarist and singer’s emotional journal, the kind of which listeners who may be experiencing the same emotions as we tread through this dark hour can certainly sympathize. The music featured on the album does a wonderful job of soothing the soul while providing a pad of vulnerability for the release of life’s collective stresses. It’s retro-inspired indie rock mixed with the perfect amount of ambiance to calm even the most fried of nerves. Rarely does an artist find such a wonderful balance while exploring such intense themes, but Granduciel and his band managed to do just that from start to finish.
For every track like “An Ocean Between The Waves”, which delivers an uptempo sprint across the vast space of Granduciel’s mind to an inspirational climax, there are songs like “Eyes to the Wind”, which offers an updated take on classic, Beatnik-inspired Americana with more serious lyrics like “Like a train in reverse down a dark road/Carrying the whole load/Just rattling the whole way home”.
On “Red Eyes”, the listener can hear Granduciel battling furiously with himself to resist giving in to the void of the night while also searching intensely for the right way to get himself out of whatever predicament is fueling such dark emotions.
“Don’t wanna let the dark night cover my soul,” he sings in the uptempo tune. “Well, you can see it through the darkness coming my way/Well, we won’t get lost inside it all again.”
The conflicting energies are then slowed down drastically as the music drops into the appropriately-titled “Suffering”. It’s here where the ballad’s lyrical content is much more personal than other songs, but one can’t help but relate to the music in at least some way as Granduciel delivers the words, “In the moments of suffering,” with vulnerability.
“The Haunting Idle”, a 3:08 minute instrumental focused around darker, atmospheric ambiance, does a fine job of easing the listener into more of a mysterious setting, and it’s quite similar to the “Space” portion of latter-era Grateful Dead performances. By the time the track finishes, the listener is caught in a drowsy state of confusion about what might happen next, only to hear the music begin to ascend back up to cruising altitude as it opens into the grand, rung-out chords of “Burning”, on which Granduciel belts out inspiring lyrics, “Wide awake I rearrange the way I listen in the dark/Dreaming of starting up again/So if you look, you’ll find yourself/You’re not the demon in the dark/That you and I, yea we’d been through that.”
As the album begins to come to a close, Granduciel forces the listener to ask themself, “Are we lost in a dream or just lost in the silence of the moment? It’s always hard to tell.” The wavy, tremolo effect of the electric guitar on “Lost in the Dream” adds to the moment of solemn self-reflection, but it’s not in any way melancholic.
The ending track, “In Reverse”, takes its time to get going—and what a wonderful, peaceful 1:50 minute instrumental opening it is, like a warm aroma that graciously welcomes the listener into the room. It’s during this final dance when Granduciel sings perhaps the most relatable rhetoric at this moment in time. He closes with, “Sometimes I wait for the cold wind to blow/As I struggle with myself right now/As I let her darkness in/But I don’t mind chasing you through the back ways for the keys/It evaporates and fades like a grand parade.”
One day, this all will evaporate and fade into the past. Until then, as we, too, struggle with ourselves, there are albums like this to keep us inspired to chase out the darkness in search of the coming light.
Stream the entire album in full via the Spotify player below.
The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream