Saturday, June 18, 2016

Lost in the Dream (2014)

Recorded in nine studios (counting Adam Granduciel's home) over a period of two years, and  with some two dozen contributors, including a core five-piece band, this album still comes down to one person, Granduciel, late of Kurt Vile. Granduciel has said about this and the previous two albums by the War on Drugs that they are not "band" records, but solo. Before I looked more closely into it, after only listening to it, I already thought of it as an album by a single brooding person alone in the studio, overdubbing (like maybe Magnetic Fields, Sparklehorse, or the Mountain Goats). That turns out to be more figuratively true than literal, as Granduciel, who wrote all this material (except one of the 10 tracks, for which Michael Johnson gets a co-writing credit with him), churned through collaborators and versions to get things the way he more or less wants here. The title is descriptive rather than romantic, as this frequently sounds like the pensive carrying-on of a genuinely lost soul. It is often sweet, but it always aches. The comparisons are to such as Bruce Springsteen and the Waterboys, whose influence (especially Springsteen's) is apparent in many of the riffs and hooks and grooves—their slower, more contemplative sides to be sure, with the general miasma of mood. But in terms of ambition, it reminds me of the conceits of the early Michael Stipe, the singer who felt constrained by the precisions of language when what he wanted to express was so much more imprecise. So he mumbled. Musically, the music of the War on Drugs is a mumbling affair. It knows the consonants and vowels of its musical syntax and pronunciation but is more often bedeviled with an age-old question of youth, Why bother? Though it is filled with melodies and memorable structures, it's pop music only by gesture. It's more often content to sail off and sink into deep lagoons of feeling, vibrating with its own incoherent sense of what it wants to say, even as it goes under the water, or the things it would want to say if it could be bothered even to care that much. Among other things it inevitably means there's a lot of self-pity to be found here among the beautiful, searing moods. The formal distancing of the stance can start to feel pretentious. And I'm not sure at all what it will sound like in five or 10 years, or if it will even be remembered as all. Yet so far it has remained a nice place to go for shelter on a regular basis—a lovely set.

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