In an unprecedented act of mass cooperation never before seen in this country (or around the world), millions of everyday citizens are gradually accepting self-quarantined isolation—potentially for the next several weeks—in hopes of curbing the ongoing spread of COVID-19, especially in states like New York, Washington, and California.
As coronavirus fears engulf the greater psyche of the country with major impacts on social gatherings and economies both local and national, regular men, women, and children are finding themselves stuck indoors, a practice typically saved for less dangerous instances like the common cold or a pending natural disaster.
One album which has always come 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‘ Lost in the Dream. Released in 2014, the personal period piece from singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel makes for a wonderful soundtrack for the lonely, but does so without piling onto the darkening moods which are already present. 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 which makes us seriously think and rediscover ourselves in times of solitude and question.
The 10-track studio effort which, heavily themed around the immense feelings of loneliness and home-ridden depression by Granduciel, acts as a collection of journal entries shared with listeners who may be experiencing the same emotions as we tread through this dark social hour. The music featured on the album does a wonderful job of soothing the soul while also energizing and allowing for a release of pent-up stress. 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 the 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 Americana with more serious lyrics (“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