The War on Drugs: From Dylan to Dire Straits, By Way of Attrition
Whether on the basketball court or onstage, when two supreme talents join forces, it tends to make things better. Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen, LeBron James needs Dwyane Wade, McCartney clearly needed Lennon, and Salt would be a run-of-the mill condiment without Pepa.
But there are exceptions to such logic. It wasn’t until Jason Isbell was jettisoned from the Drive-By Truckers that he truly came into his own (arguably surpassing his former bandmates), and it wasn’t until Kurt Vile left The War on Drugs that Adam Granduciel was able to crank out the likes of Lost in the Dream, an early frontrunner for album of the year.
Vile was present for The War on Drugs’ 2008 debut, Wagonwheel Blues. It’s a perfectly solid album, but hardly a memorable one–b-side Dylan crossed with the self-indulgence of Destroyer. After Vile left, Granduciel cut 2011’s Slave Ambient, which was a different beast entirely. Atmospheric and experimental with vocals a near afterthought, it bore little resemblance to its predecessor. Taken as a whole, it was an impressive and distinctive record, but it still lacked a standout track to really stick in listeners’ craws.
Lost in the Dream is full of such anchors, with “Suffering” and the title track coming most readily to mind. But Granduciel has sacrificed none of his creative spelunking: Ultra-long intros are abundant, with “In Reverse” receiving the benefit of a three-and-a-half-minute drone setup before snapping into four core minutes of folk-pop catchiness. Dreamily drifting through multiple genres while employing saxophone more effectively than just about any album in the history of popular music, Lost is most reminiscent of Dire Straits, careening toward Phosphorescent’s far-out twang on one pole and New Order elctro-rock on the other.
The highest compliment I’ve heard paid to Lost is that it’s the ultimate driving album. It’ll make you skip an exit, if not a county, as you steer rapt, more concerned with making it through the last track than pulling up on time for last call.